Four Bucks a Gallon! You’re in the Game Now, Buddy Boy

By Alex Ricciuti

06.10.2008

Well, it’s finally here. Gasoline in the US is now 4 dollars a gallon. Although pump prices always spike this time of year as the summer driving season begins, there is also that small matter of oil going for like 650 bucks a barrel or so. So, the safe bet is to get used to it. It’s not likely to get better soon. Most evidence actually points to it getting far worse.

US consumers have had inexpensive gasoline for a long time. Prices in Europe right now are above 8 dollars a gallon. But, of course, the market here has always been adjusted to high fuel costs and the current crisis probably doesn’t represent a paradigm shift like it does in the United States. In Europe, anything above a 2 liter engine is considered big.

The US market has begun adjusting in a fairly radical way. The Ford F-150, the defining vehicle of the American automotive industry, is no longer the country’s biggest seller. That honor now goes to the Toyota Camry, followed by the Honda Accord – two well-built, extremely reliable mid-sized sedans. The Detroit 3 have been avoiding taking that hint for far too long. The consequences are crashing down upon them now.

But there is also something exciting going on here. The energy of the moment is palpable. Alongside that sense of apprehension at not knowing exactly what is coming also comes an anticipation for it. There is the possibility of improvement here.

Looking back at the last year or so, I realize how much less driving I’ve been doing, despite my occupation. Even when I test a vehicle I don’t rack up the miles like I used to and try to get things done quicker and less painfully for the environment. As for my own car, I often leave it parked and walk or take public transportation. When I do take it, it’s for short commutes to go shopping or visit friends who live outside the city.

This isn’t something that I’ve done with any amount of deliberateness. I just did it without thinking much about it. And not only do I not miss hopping into the car 8 times a day, I’ve come to realize that, with some Zen-like effect, the walking coupled with the psychological reward for my non-polluting ways has reduced my stress levels somewhat.

It’s like this dream I once had. I’m in a parlor with a group of eccentric people. Three of them are sitting at a table playing cards. One of them, an older gentlemen, asks me to sit and play. I don’t know what the game is and I’m not even sure what the stakes are but a sense of excitement takes hold of me and I can’t wait to play. I feel like whatever happens, things will never be the same again. But somehow, I’m not worried at all. It’s going to be a wild ride but it’s going to be fine in the end.

Alex Ricciuti is a freelance writer and automotive journalist based in Zurich, Switzerland. He writes frequently for Automotive News Europe. He also blogs on all things automotive at eurocarguy.blogspot.com.

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Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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8 Comments

  1. In Montreal, gas is now at 1.50$CDN a liter. And the same context happens here (sometimes I even think then Toyota and Honda might sleep in bed with the oil companies lobbying them to get their prices high LOL :-D)

    Note then there some tv/radio/newspaper ads mentionning incentives for the Accord and Camry like 0% financing and even some rebates.

    The irony is the Camry (who replaced the Corona) and the Accord had growed “bigger, longer and wider”. The 1983 Camry got a wheelbase of 102.4 inches and the current one is 109.3 inches. Same for the Accord, North American edition on its beginning got a wheelbase of 94 inches and today…..110 inches. And now the Chevy Malibu as well as the Hyundai Sonata begin to be a interesting bang for the bucks from an article I saw at Car & Driver

    If the next-gen Accord and Camry are more bigger (not as big as the fuselage Chrysler Newport but almost big as the 1980s Chevy Caprice, Ford LTD Crown Victoria and the mid-1970s GM “Colonnade” intermediates), I guess some need to learn then Toyota and Honda dropped their masks to show their real faces (do they preach the old proverb “Do as I said, not as I do?”). Maybe the newer generation might see the light and could avoid the Accord and Camry when they’ll be…. “grand’pa cars”.

    I wonder if Kenechi Sonoda, author of the manga (Japanese comic book) Gunsmith Cats might enjoy to use Camry and Accord for some stunt scenes and car chase scene where they meet their ill-fated fate 😉

    On a off-topic note, the folks of Fifth Gear did a comparaison test between a Prius and the Jeep Patriot diesel http://fifthgear.five.tv/jsp/5gmain.jsp?lnk=601&featureid=1196&pageid=-1 (note then their MPG are in UK gallons)

    And the F-150 might be back on the top with the upcoming Ecoboost engines, a smaller companion (F-100) as well as a upcoming “small-block” diesel engine. There recently a 2010½ mule who was driven with the upcoming 4.4L V8 diesel (derivated from the V6 Ford/Peugeot-Citroen Duratorq/Lion family engine)

  2. Hi Stephane,

    Nice to see a fellow Montrealer here! And thanks for commenting on my post.

    I now live in Switzerland and the price here is about 2 dollars a liter. You do get more mileage though, due to the higher octane fuel (regular is 95, super 98 and ultra is 100) and the driving conditions are less stop/start than in Canada. But still, it’s stinging and hurting everyone around the world right now, not just in Canada or the US.

    The problem in the US, and Canada to a lesser extent, is that there is often no alternative to driving. Housing and commercial developments are so sprawled out that there is no reliable public transportation in many areas. (Reliable meaning you get to where you’re going in a reasonable amount of time.)

    In Europe, as in Montreal, for instance, you can rely on public transport to make up for less driving. It’s not always as convenient but it is usually reliable.

    Montreal, by the way, has one of the best public transport infrastructures in North America. The Metro system is one of the highest ranked in the world. Certainly the best I’ve seen. So do yourself a favor from time to time and take a ride on it instead of driving. Walk around downtown, enjoy the atmosphere. It’s a different perspective and it’s actually refreshing to get out from behind the wheel and just wander about!

    Alex

  3. So what can you do if you live somewhere in the US where there is no public transportation? You’re screwed, all you can do is buy the car that gets the best fuel economy and hope for the best, or, make plans to move to a city with public transportation, which really isn’t a viable option for a lot of people. Basically, we’re SOL.

  4. I understand your predicament, Feeling Blue.

    You know, the advantage of living in suburbs and small towns is the sense of space that you get. I was never a reflexive critic of American suburbia. There are some really beautiful, idyllic areas to live in small town or suburban America.

    The price you pay is complete dependence on the automobile. (Rural Europe is similar but because of the dense population you have better bus and train services.) But when public transport services are simply not available, or service too inconvenient, then you are, as you say, screwed up the wazoo.

    Your choices all require the automobile. You can try pooling or car sharing (if that is available in your area.)Or having to buy a more efficient car. But when prices are soaring like this, even that may not be enough if you have a long commute. Maybe you will have ot look at moving, which is a pretty radical option. City life can be great if you live in the right place and exploit all that large cities have to offer. But I don’t fault people, particularly those with small children, who want a quiter, out of the way residence with lots of space around them.

  5. It is interesting to witness the economic changes many have made due to gas prices. In the US, public transportation use is up (as much as 20% in some cities), miles driven is down, and gasoline usage is down. Personally, I haven’t really made any changes. Here in Denver, we have a pretty good public transit system, and I have been using it to get to work anyway, so my driving is restricted to weekends. Though I do feel for those who, for the time being, have to deal with the increased expense.

    On a side note, the F-Series was supplanted by the Camry and Accord, as well as the Corolla and and Civic, for the month of May. Year-to-date sales still have the F-Series leading, and many industry analysts think the F-Series will remain on top for the year.

  6. There were four cars ahead of the F-150 and I’ll give you 5-1 odds that there will be at LEAST four cars ahead of the F-150 in the June sales results, provided Ford doesn’t roll out the big incentives on the truck.

  7. You sure are going out on a long limb with that bet aren’t you? *rolls eyes*

  8. I cannot see the F-150 coming out on top this year. Even if the new truck gooses sales, they’re increasing off of a shrinking base. Add to that, the truck has now been delayed so it will have less selling months. I think we’re going to have a new sales champion.

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