Rich Galen (www.mullings.com) points out that the 500 ml bottle of water, selling for $0.99 down at the convenience store, tots up to around $7.50 per gallon. The "Skinny Water" that sucked out my IQ points (see below) is around $10 per gallon. I don't hear people complaining about that, even though we all need water much more than we need gasoline.
Oh wait! There's no alternative to gasoline! You can't get gasoline from a tap in your home, like you can with water. People have choices when it comes to what they drink. They don't need that $7.50/gallon water because they can choose to drink other things.
Let me see...
Hmm! Mountain Dew, bought on sale for the princely sum of $3 per 12-pack of 12 oz cans, is only $2.67 per gallon. Well, shut my mouth!
The situation with our energy economy is all the result of the demands of the American consumer. I'm not intending any of this to be critical (except for the last one) but in general, Americans:
* won't use public transportation
* won't buy fuel-efficient vehicles
* won't walk when they can drive
So where does this lead us?
Won't use public transportation
Anyone who has ever even looked beyond America to see how public transportation works in other countries knows that just about every other "first-world" country on the planet has a better public transportation system than the various cities of the US do. This is due to necessity: the costs of owning vehicles in other countries is much higher than it is here. Gas is on the order of $12 per gallon in France, for example. If gas were $12 per gallon here, the used car lots would fill up with SUVs pretty quickly.
Won't buy fuel-efficient vehicles
Americans like BIG cars. We always have. It's why--up until gas prices started to rise--big SUVs were so popular.
The Chevrolet Avalanche (I think it was that; I may be mis-remembering the name) is essentially a four-wheel drive sedan with an open trunk: it's a pickup truck with four doors and a very short bed. I think it cost something like $35,000, and except for the open trunk and four wheel drive, it had nothing that my old 1975 Chevrolet Impala didn't have. Well, admittedly, the Avalanche has ABS and fuel injection, too; but the fuel economy rating was about the same as my old '75, and the weight was about the same, too.
Americans like FAST cars. Again, we always have. GM made a serious mistake when they shut down the Camaro; Ford is doing brisk business--even now--with the Mustang. Americans like big rumbly V8 engines that make the car move very fast.
Won't walk when they can drive
The only thing I need to say here is that I have seen people circle the parking lot trying to find a place close to the doors of a health club.
I have seen people circle the lot while I found any old spot and parked in it, and I have watched these people circle the lot while I was walking into the store. I have seen people sit and wait for another car to back out of a space near the door when they could park a few spaces further away and walk an extra--what? Ten feet? Twenty feet? (Guess what? Your fuel economy at 0 MPH is ZERO you MORON.)
Americans, in short, have made this situation for themselves.
Public transportation? Utilization is low, so it has to be subsidized, and the end result is that the system is not very comprehensive or efficient. (Excellent insight into the situation: http://www.redstate.com/story/2006/4/27/172/32638 Steven Den Beste is my hero.)
More fuel-efficient vehicles? Let me explain something: the economy car class is made up of what is known as "loss leader" vehicles. In other words, the car company doesn't make much, if any, profit on them; they are there to bring people to the brand and (hopefully) get them to buy another, more expensive model at a later date. There is a reason why this is so: people don't buy them unless they can't afford a bigger car. Again, in general, as there are some people who prefer small, fuel-efficient cars, whether because they're "environmentally sensitive" or because they just don't like paying lots of money for gas. (Whatever the reason, if it makes them happy, more power to them.)
Generally, the average American consumer doesn't want a car which gets 50 MPG unless it goes 0-60 in a relatively short time (9 seconds or less, perhaps?). That's why the Honda and Toyota hybrids are selling; they can accelerate as if they've got much larger engines in them. These cars sell at a premium price and I seem to recall that neither Honda nor Toyota makes much money on the deal; the hybrid technology is expensive stuff.
The problem is that "economical" and "fast" do not combine well. Torque is acceleration, and it takes fuel to make torque. You can make the engine highly efficient--lean burn diesels can do this rather well--but you still must have a certain number of kilowatts' worth of fuel burning in that engine if you want the acceleration. (http://www.automobilemag.com/features/columns/0403_top_fuel_dragsters/ for some interesting facts about the fastest-accelerating piston-powered cars.)
Gearing will help, but it cannot replace the basic fact that if you want the car to move quickly, you must expend energy to make it move quickly. (In fact, too many gears will reduce the efficiency of the transmission....)
So if the average consumer wants a car with at least a V6, an automatic transmission, and air conditioning, what are the carmakers going to do? Refuse to sell it because the consumer ought to be buying the car they don't make a profit on anyway? (Which they don't because Americans don't buy enough of them in the first place....) Short of some rather draconian new laws, that's not going to happen. The automakers are going to make the cars that will sell, which means catering to the tastes of the people who are buying from them.
GM and Ford, particularly, were laughing all the way to the bank for several years. As I said in an earlier rant, Ford was making around $15,000 pure profit on every
(I could discuss the stupidity of buying four-wheel-drive when you have no intention of ever leaving pavement, but I'll save that for a later time. Suffice it to say that paying extra for optional four-wheel-drive, for the average driver, is a complete waste of money. Especially since it lowers fuel economy.)
And since minivans have a bad reputation for being "bland", no one wants to own one. (Heh. Watch the video of this guy's Dodge Caravan blowing the doors off a souped-up Camaro: http://www.turbovan.net/van.html)
But I can't blame GM or Ford (or any of the others): they are simply giving the consumers what they want. Consumers want big honkin' 4x4 trucks, and the automakers would be crazy not to satisfy that demand.
However, it's all part of a larger pattern, which I'm trying to illustrate, that the current situation with gas prices etc is largely our own damn fault. We want big and/or fast cars. We don't like public transportation. We don't like to walk very much.
Couple that with the fact that none of us wants a refinery anywhere near his house; we don't want our air to smell bad or kill things; and we won't let anyone drill in a tiny area of wasteland above the Arctic Circle which was specifically set aside for oil exploration in 1979.
We pay $30,000 for a vehicle with a big engine that gets less than 20 MPG with a tailwind, we insist on living far from work, we won't take public transportation, and then we bitch about how much gas costs when it goes over $3 per gallon.
There's a lot more I could say about this, but in the interests of getting to sleep at a reasonable time I'll just bullet them instead:
* Alternative fuels: you can run your car on natural gas, propane, or alcohol, if you spend some money on the conversion. You don't have to buy gasoline--but you will have to plan your trips very carefully since alternative fuels are not widely available. (We don't like them.)
* We also don't like diesels. They've (rather unfairly) gotten a bad rap in America. VW was getting 50 MPG back in the 1970s with their 4-cyl diesels and the acceleration was not too bad; these days the Europeans can buy sports cars with some impressive diesel engines--both in terms of performance and fuel economy. (Diesel fuel has a higher energy density than gasoline does.)
* The average person's need for the huge SUV is actually fairly limited. Most people don't need 10,000 lb towing capacity. Buying an SUV rather than a minivan is typically a "style" decision, not necessity. There are people who do need the big pickup truck to tow a boat or a car trailer or.... Those people may want to invest in something small as a "daily driver", though.
* Even at $3 per gallon, gas in the US is cheap; as I said above, in France it's $12 per gallon. Other European countries pay around the same. Most of that price, though, is taxes.
In short, we made the situation. Not intentionally, to be sure, but our demands, as consumers, have led us to this point. And now we're complaining about it, kind of like people who buy nothing but Japanese cars and then complain about how few jobs there are these days...but that's a rant for another time.