Matt Jones just drove his Honda Accord from hereto Las Vegas with
the moon roof closed, windows up, air conditioning off, and trunk
carefully emptied of excess weight. "I saved a quarter tank of gas
each way," he says. "That's a lot of money these days."
Atlanta suburbanite Charlene Mayfield got fed up spending more
than $350 a month in gasoline for her 80-mile commute, so she sent
an intra-company SOS looking for van poolers. She got a dozen
responses in 10 minutes. "Now we each spend no more than $68 a
month," she says.
Brett Greenberg, a consultant in Boston who helps firms
accomplish more tasks online, says business is up 40 percent.
"People are realizing the giant cost savings of not traveling for
everything," he says. "That attraction is accelerating rapidly."
As Americans have done in earlier energy crises, they are rushing
to take the pinch out of filling up at the pump. While history
teaches that such energy-saving changes in behavior are often short-
lived, lasting only until prices fall, this time may be different,
many experts say. Or at least, they add, it should be.
That's because even though the current swell in prices may be
caused by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the national average had
reached $2.61 a gallon before the storms struck.
The long-term trend toward higher gas prices, experts say, will
continue. These experts point to the rise of energy consumption in
China, Indonesia, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe and say that
is unlikely to offset new US and Canadian discoveries in Alberta and
in Sakhalin, Russia, and the return to use of damaged Gulf
Experts say the current situation is a study in what could be
done to achieve significant collective and individual savings,
should consumers question entrenched habits of gasoline use.
"We've come a long way in understanding how dramatic savings are
right in front of us if we just consider new ways of thinking and
behaving," says Siim Soot, research professor at the University of
Illinois at Chicago.
Besides simple ways of saving gas - from closing moon roofs to
reduce drag to properly inflating tires to maximize mileage - there
are bigger commuter-lifestyle options such as biking, public
transportation, carpooling, and walking. Beyond that are larger
questions - from how and where to expand cities and build businesses
to the burgeoning development of telecommuting.
"How seriously should we think about making such changes more
permanent as we face a future of significantly increased competition
for oil around the world?" asks Dr. Soot.
The evidence of change afoot and the possibility for more is all
around, he and others say.
A just-released survey by Kelley Blue Book Marketing, for
example, showed that 59 percent of current US car buyers say gas
prices have either changed their minds or strongly influenced
purchase decisions - an all-time high. Forty-two percent say they
would seriously consider a fuel-efficient vehicle if gas prices go
another 25 cents above the current national average (which was $3.07
per gallon on Sept. 5).
"With prices for gas now skyrocketing above the psychological
threshold of $3 per gallon in many areas, consumers are more
interested in fuel-efficient cars than at any time in the last two
decades," says Jack Nerad, market analyst for Kelley Blue Book.
That is becoming increasingly evident in many American cities,
where car owners are trading in gas guzzlers for smaller-engine
cars. SUV owners are even downsizing to smaller SUVs. And there are
waiting lists at some car companies offering gas/electric hybrid
cars, such as the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid. …