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Gas, Starting to suck again...

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Apr. 12th, 2007 | 07:22 pm


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It is sucking. And I'm a little glad to see it.

from: neutrinoj
date: Apr. 13th, 2007 07:06 am (UTC)

I'm a little glad to see it. I know it's not great for the economy, since shipping costs go up. But I've watched high gas prices change enough peoples' minds about their vehicles to see a serious silver lining here.

Increased pollution is just too long-term for the human mind to care much about. Increased cancer rates due to the carcinogenic nature of gasoline is far, far too long term to serve as a motivator. Increased child asthma rates is still too long term, and it also doesn't cause direct pain to the person choosing the low mileage car or the long non-shared commute.

Finally, the geo-political, economic and military effects of increasing consumption of a resource we have to get from countries we'd never otherwise ally with, doing so while the biggest communist superpower is moving through their own industrial revolution...I'm out of breath just writing that, but I think the complexity of that effect rules it out as a motivator just as much as the long-term nature.

The human mind, for true motivation, needs something short-term. Money works.

We rely on Free Market forces to increase engine efficiency. We do so in place of regulation, trusting that the Market will drive better efficiency. Unfortunately, the Market isn't really as abstract a concept as the "invisible hand" quote would lead us to believe. The Market is simply the aggregation of buyers and sellers. But car buyers don't have much motivation to buy for fuel efficiency yet. Heck, they don't even buy for reliability. They buy for aesthetics, for rate of acceleration, and increasingly for trunk space. This drives innovation in these three areas, but not much for engine efficiency or gas mileage.

Finally, finally, buyers in the US are beginning to add gas efficiency to the list. But not that much. Those who are frugal or least capable of handling the increased cost started to move a few years ago. But if you're reading this, the increased cost almost certainly appeals more to your frugality than your ability to pay.

A $1 increase per gallon only translates to $1.78 per day, which is likely what you spend on coffee. We get upset because we get frequent reminders of the cost increases (up on those lit gas station signs) and because it triggers our "it didn't that much 5 years ago" response.

I'm happy to see the increase. The gas companies can have an extra $652 per year (15,000 miles divided by 23 miles/gallon multiplied by $1 extra per gallon). Actually, they can have $257 less than that from people driving my friend's 38 mpg non-hybrid car. The gas price increase has a positive -- it convinces an increasing percentage of the population to buy cars that get better mileage. And their purchases, acting as the not-so-invisible hand of the free market, motivates car companies to focus a few resources on engine efficiency.

Engine efficiency isn't a totally dark art. This car my friend drives gets 38mpg. That's 10% more than my car, the model 2 years earlier, made with the same body style. But Toyota increased the engine efficiency in those 2 years, keeping his car's acceleration and torque just as high while decreasing his gas consumption. 10% isn't a big deal, so here's the kicker: there are plenty of cars in our same size and weight range, which get less acceleration, but also burn significantly more gas per mile. Most car companies aren't focusing on the state of the art here because there just hasn't been sufficient market demand.

Let's show them some.

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