More Efficient Cars, More Domestic Energy: It's Working (Despite Gas Prices)

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It still hasn't really registered in public awareness, but as we've said before, U.S. gasoline consumption has been falling since 2006.

Now, it turns out that U.S. energy imports have been falling as well--from 60 percent in 2005 to just 45 percent last year.

That can be attributed to two factors: more fuel-efficient cars, and more domestic energy production, including both oil and vastly increased natural-gas output.

The recent economic downturn may have proved a blessing in disguise for boosting the efficiency of the overall U.S. vehicle fleet.

U.S. drivers have delayed replacing their cars, with the average age of vehicles on the roads now at 10.8 years, the highest it's been since World War II.

Cars Crushed Into Cubes

Cars Crushed Into Cubes

Enlarge Photo

In fact, for the last three years, the U.S. has scrapped more vehicles than it sold--meaning the country's total vehicle population actually fell slightly from 2008 to 2011.

Sooner or later, though, those 10- and 15-year-old cars will have to be replaced. It may already have started, as car sales have strengthened over the last six months.

But many of them will be replaced with 2012 and later models that have to meet stiffer gas-mileage standards than the 2009 models that drivers might otherwise have bought.

That'll boost overall fuel efficiency even faster.

And for those who can afford newer cars, it may make coping with gas prices that could rise to $5 a gallon this summer slightly less painful than it would have been otherwise.

Still, energy politics remains deeply contentious, no more so than in a U.S. presidential election year.

About those gas prices?

Barack Obama

Barack Obama

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Despite widespread political banter that it's the president's job to ensure that they remain low so U.S. drivers don't suffer, most people recognize there's very little the president can do about gas prices.

And none other than the magazine that proudly promoted itself as "the capitalist tool" has laid out exactly why, in a nice two-part series entitled "The Truth About Obama, Oil, and the Gasoline Blame Game."

Read it here: Part I and Part II.

Among the points made by author Rick Ungar, supported by links to data:

  • Domestic crude oil production has risen every year since 2008
  • U.S. energy companies are still drilling only a portion of the lands already leased to them
  • The U.S. dollar remains weak, meaning imports of everything cost more
  • U.S. refineries, more efficient than ever, now produce more gasoline than we consume--so they're exporting it
  • The much-discussed Keystone Pipeline might, at best, lower gas prices by 1 to 4 cents per gallon
  • Speculators betting on further oil-price rises may play a significant role in today's gas prices.

In any case, the message is that--despite high gas prices--whether you're motivated by a concern for the planet or by a desire for U.S. energy security, things seem to be getting better.

On the ecological side, U.S. cars are getting more efficient and we're burning less gasoline every year. And that's a trend that will continue, since the overall U.S. vehicle population won't increase dramatically.

(China and India, well, that's another story altogether.)

And on the energy security front, the U.S. is less dependent on foreign oil imports today than it was even five years ago.

Perhaps we can celebrate together.


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Comments (14)
  1. Drill Baby Drill! I still see a bunch of these stickers on Suburbans... And those people still populate the planet :-(

  2. It really is part of a democracy that does not work. If the problem with gasoline is people's choice of inefficient vehicles, an elected politician really cannot say so.

    Some times, you can find the source of the problem by looking in the mirror.

  3. More Efficient Cars, More Domestic Energy: It's Working (BECAUSE OF Gas Prices)

    There... fixed it for ya.

  4. Well, I didn't read the story, but from the pictures, Obama wants to crush our cars so we don't need to fill them with gasoline. :)

  5. A lot of unemployed people are also choosing food over fuel....


  6. Interesting, because our ethanol policy seems to favor fuel over food.

  7. President Obama has done all that he can to restrict the supply of oil and make it more expensive in order to promote the use of small electric cars and. Restricting the drilling permits on public land, refusal to extend the keystone pipeline, financing Brazil's oil production are just some of the ways he has been promoting less supply and higher costs. We may be at high production but the increase has been the result of drilling on private property, not on public land where the President has control. It has only been since the sudden rise in gasoline at the pump that President Obama has suddenly started bragging about how much his administration has done to increase the supply of oil. Before that he preached consume less and pay more.

  8. @Lee: Interesting points; thanks for making them. Handful of thoughts: (a) The most important Obama automotive effort has not been plug-in vehicles but stiffer CAFE requirements. What's your view of the proposed 2017-2015 CAFE rules? (b) Please provide a link to the data you used on drilling on private vs public lands, as I haven't seen those comparisons but would like to. (c) I'm curious why you appear to view the notion that we should "consume less" oil as a bad thing?

  9. Perhaps 2017-2025 CAFE.

  10. [chuckle] Eagle eye for copy as always, John. I shall be curious to see if Mr./Ms. Todd responds ....

  11. Wanted to share this terrific Milken Institute report on oil prices and what they mean for the economy.

  12. Did you notice that the forecast for liquid fuels used in the USA is pretty much flat for for the next 13 years (2025)? That seems strange with the CAFE standard being pushed to 54.5 mpg.

  13. Congradulations, Lee Todd! You are the best of this blog. Also if you wonder why electric rates are going up so fast you can thank our President! The EPA is forcing 8% of the coal plants to be shutdown which produce some of our lowest price electicity.

  14. It would be nice to have a link to some data showing electricity prices are rising, because actually they are going down.

    For all the debate about Fracking, it has succeeded in creating and abundant supply of natural gas and cut the price in half. This has dropped the price of electricity in my area because a significant percentage is produced from nat.gas.

    As for whether or not any president deserves the credit or blame for such a situation, I think his role is small.

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