Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Gaming the gas pump...

A milestone of sorts yesterday. Jan couldn't fill up the Blazer before hitting the purchase limit - $75. Which makes this idea interesting.
In any event, the principle underlying GTA's success is obvious. There are few things Americans--especially of the male variety--love more than either cars or competition, and the two in combination are a nearly unbeatable pair. Which is why we're pleased by the recent trend in the automobile industry, in which it's become increasingly common for carmakers to include fuel-efficiency gauges that display prominently the number of miles per gallon a car is getting at each instant. Toyota's Prius, among other models, comes with such a gauge, and Nissan announced last year that all new vehicles will be equipped with one. In trials, the gauge has prompted smoother and more efficient driving, which can increase fuel efficiency by 10 percent or more. Conservation, which was once, in the words of Vice President Cheney, merely a "sign of personal virtue, " becomes something far more appealing: a sign of personal superiority. It would be even better if the gauges displayed one's fuel-efficiency percentile, putting Americans in direct competition with each other for gas-sipping bragging rights.

In fact, it's becoming clear that the strategy of calling the public's attention to its energy-consumption habits holds real promise for spurring more efficient living. A few years ago, Mark Martinez, manager of program development at Southern California Edison, was searching for ways to get the utility's customers to conserve electricity. He hit upon the idea of an Ambient Orb, a small globe which he programmed to glow red when electricity consumption was high (making power from the grid more expensive) and green when it was low. Within weeks, customers to whom Martinez handed out Ambient Orbs had reduced their peak-period power usage by about 40 percent, voluntarily saving both money and energy (see Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein's recent piece, "Easy Does It," April 9). [More]
This is also why I favor large screen readouts with numbers about 2' high of yields on combine roofs. Then you could drive by and see how a field/farmer is doing.

If you want people to change their habits, find a way to keep score.

And we are changing our habits. While they said it couldn't be done, we are driving less.
For the last few years in some quarters I've read claims that American drivers will drive themselves to financial ruin before they respond to higher gasoline prices and cut back on driving. I'm more of the school that people will restructure their lives (change jobs, move to be closer to jobs, do less recreational driving, etc) out of necessity. My view is that Americans can cut their gasoline usage in half once the need arises (and it will arise as Peak Oil bites harder). Well, with oil north of $100 per barrel and price shocks biting hard American drivers traveled 4.3% fewer miles in March 2008 than in March 2007. [More]
For us in rural America, this expense is hitting even harder. Lifestyles centered on a vehicle will change or disappear altogether. I'm even going to hazard a prediction: entertaining friends at home will make a modest comeback.

I'm also thinking the "taxi-driver-Mom" syndrome is due a rethink as well. Maybe Sarah doesn't need to be in 6 sports and activities. She can just pick one. And maybe "traveling teams" will scale back as well.

OK - that's just crazy talk.


Anonymous said...

Might these high gas prices prompt a mini-revival of merchants in our small towns? Cheaper to shop local than drive an hour to Wal-mart for everything?

John Phipps said...


I'm not sure that could happen. Nut I do think the combination of Internet shopping and UPS will prove more attractive.

Also, you may rarely go shopping alone again.

Anonymous said...

On keeping score, what does America think of a group of Senators that have oil wells in the Delaware River at a time when diesel is selling in D.C. for $9.00 pr gallon, that ship their oil to the Middle East just to make money instead of helping our country?