Time for Change

If there is one thing every American has known for a long time it is that we should be driving more fuel-efficient cars. Everyone knows it. In science class growing up we get lessons on pollution, history classes on the oil shortages of the 1970s, and regular reminders as America goes off to war to stabilize a region we depend on for oil. Unfortunately, fuel efficiency is like weight loss in the United States - something everyone knows is good for them but something few are successful in achieving.

Hurricane Katrina wiped out New Orleans this week and in doing so closed down numerous oil refineries which were tasked with converting crude oil into gasoline. The result is a massive increase in gas prices and actual shortages across the country. With gas prices in Chicago hitting around $3.50 per gallon, it’s going to be a costly Labor Day weekend. I drive a Chevy Colorado which has a 20-gallon fuel tank. Do the math - it’s going to cost me $70 to fill my tank.

Of course, when I went car shopping last I was cognizant of the fuel economy issue. My truck gets around 18 miles per gallon and I am aware that this is a poor rating. But there just weren’t any fuel-efficient trucks to be found. I bought the truck to haul things around. You can’t haul drywall and timbers around in a Prius. I do take the train to work so my tank of gas is lasting me about 10 days or so. However, until recently I was making a roundtrip 80 mile daily commute. I was filling my tank up every three days or about 10 times a month. With these gas prices that would cost me $700 per month. As an independent consultant, I get to deduct mileage driven to a client so there is a little offset there but that’s still an unbelievable amount of money for gas.

There is a lot of tragedy and pain in the events unfolding down south right now. But as Napoleon Hill once said, in every setback, there is the potential for an equal amount for growth. Perhaps gas prices will cause so much grief to citizens in this country that they will finally demand that auto manufacturers get with the program and create cars that get 100 miles per gallon or, better yet, run on hydrogen. I am a firm believer in hydrogen-powered vehicles as the future of transportation. But so far, the market has not demanded that investment be made in hydrogen-powered vehicles and the necessary fuel stations to accompany them.

I just watched a news item regarding a school district in Florida which will be unable to fuel its fleet of schoolbuses after Friday and must rely on parents to bring their kids to school. It mentions that the lines for getting gas are miles long with waits of hours. Is this a good trade for driving that Hummer around town? I think not.

The technology exists - I saw the Hywire cars from General Motors at the Wired NextFest this summer. They look great and could be ready for production in no time. The market just needs to demand it. I think, finally, change is in the winds of Hurricane Katrina.