Maybe $4 Gas Wasn’t All Bad…

By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist

Gas prices seem to have stabilized — at last temporarily — at the New Normal of about $3.40 or so per gallon for regular unleaded.

But $4 gas did have its upsides. For instance:

* The argument for telecommuting got stronger –

There are many jobs that do not require the worker’s physical presence at a traditional office. With high-speed Internet, Skype and so on, one can effectively communicate with fellow employees, customers — and so on — as or even more effectively than in a traditional office setting. For instance, it’s easier — and much faster — to set up a teleconference than it is to get a dozen people to the same location for a conventional in-person meeting.

However, most employers have been reluctant to allow workers who could work from home to actually work from home.

Part of this is just the inertia of tradition — “people have always come to an office.” There’s also the control freak condescension of employers who suspect that workers won’t work if they aren’t stuck in a cubicle and watched all day long like sixth graders who can’t be trusted to do what they’re supposed to.

However, studies of telecommuting find that productivity actually increases when workers don’t have to waste an hour or two stuck in traffic just getting to work. Eliminating the commute can also be a huge financial incentive for both employer and employee. It amounts to “raise” (in the form of savings on gas as well as vehicle wear and tear) that goes right into the employee’s pocket — but doesn’t cost the employer a cent.

That’s a win-win for everyone.

* It’s a great excuse to buy a motorcycle –

If you have a bike — and a wife — odds are your wife doesn’t much like the bike. But when gas is $4 per gallon, you can point out to the wife how much money you’re saving by riding instead of driving. Even the biggest cruiser bike (or fastest crotch rocket) can usually deliver at least 35 mpg, average — as good or better fuel economy than almost any subcompact economy car. Smaller bikes routinely deliver 50-60 mpg or more — which outperforms any hybrid car.

Just switching from a car that gets 20 mpg on average to a bike that gets double that reduces your monthly fuel bill by half.

It’s hard to argue with that.

* $4 gas got people thinking (good thoughts) about nuclear power again –

A small group of vocal hysterics and know-nothings have succeeded in more or less shutting down the expansion of the nuclear power grid in this country. No new plants have been built in decades — even though it’s a fact that not one person has ever been killed by radioactive leakage/exposure in the entire history of US nuclear power. On the other hand, thousands have been killed (and many more maimed and crippled for life) by coal mining — which provides the bulk of U.S. electricity.

The US is not Russia — and an American nuclear power plant is not Chernobyl. Designed with the proper safeguards, nuclear power is not just clean and efficient, it is safe. Safer, in fact, than any other source of power generation we currently have access to or can expect to have for the foreseeable future.

With gas prices soaring, maybe the silent majority can finally speak up — and shout down the anti-nuclear cowheads.

* European-spec high performance/high efficiency diesels are finally becoming available –

Due to the stupidity of our government and its bureaucratic rigmarole — along with inferior quality diesel fuel — the US consumer has been denied 40 mpg-plus and high-performance diesel sedans from BMW and Mercedes — as well as 70 mpg small cars from VW and others that handily beat the at-the-pump performance of the best hybrid cars without costly and complex hybrid vehicle technology. That is changing — finally. The US now has low-sulfur diesel fuel — and the legal/regulatory situation (emissions control issues, mostly) has been addressed by dint of the fuel issue having been taken care of.

Chevy and Mazda have just added diesel-powered cars to their US product portfolio (Cruze and Sky-D 3 respectively) and other manufacturers are following suit.

$4 gas helped egg that along — even if inadvertently.

* Decent small cars –

It is no longer necessary to spend more than $20,000 to get a car you’re not ashamed of — and don’t dread driving. In fact, it’s not necessary to spend much more than $15k to get a car you’ll be proud of — and look forward to driving. One that has all the necessaries — air conditioning, a good audio system — and none of the liabilities (such as shoddy build quality, inadequate power/performance) that were formerly characteristic of lower-priced cars.

Models like the Fiat 500, the new Ford Focus, the Nissan Versa, Mazda2 and Dodge Dart are eons evolved from dreck like the Chevy Chevette and its kind.

And a major driver has been consumer demand for smaller cars that aren’t crappy cars.

Thank $4 per gallon fuel for putting the pressure on!

* There was less traffic out there –

This one’s a mixed bag, but:

When gas cost $4 per, if you could still afford to drive, the drive itself was less aggravating than it was when gas cost $2 (or less) per gallon — because there were suddenly far fewer cars on the road.

After gas prices doubled circa 2008, traffic decreased across the board, nationwide, on both highways and secondary roads as people throttled back on their day-tripping, carpooled — or just stayed home. There was a welcome pause in what had been a relentless annual uptick in the total number of cars on the roads as well as the annual mileage racked up by these cars.

Driving almost anywhere when gas was $2 per or less was becoming a hassle; at $4 per gallon we may drive less often — but we can actually drive again when we do. Instead of staring at the bumper of a minivan with soccer ball stickers all over it as we bump and grind along at 15-25 mph.


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