A timeless adage tells us to be careful what we wish for. For years, as gas prices climbed, American drivers were pining for cheaper gasoline. The days of cheaper gasoline are here, but for how long no one really knows. While low gas prices are indisputably a benefit for individual wallets, they also present wide-ranging effects, not all of which are positive. On the topic of gas prices, the New York Times believes “A great deal of evidence suggests that they are bad for the environment. The economics is simple. Low gas prices encourage people to drive more, and to buy more gas-hungry vehicles. Put in a contrary way, high prices are a boon because they discourage driving and limit gasoline consumption.”
The effects of low gas prices are evident when reviewing 2015 auto sales. 2015 was a record breaking year for automotive sales, with approximately 17.5 million vehicles sold. Americans spent $570 billion on new vehicles in 2015. In particular, SUV and truck sales spiked due to an improving economy and low gas prices. The improved sales of SUVs and trucks had immediate effects on both average fuel-efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions. Despite technological improvements and increased environmental awareness, the average MPG of the American fleet declined in 2015, largely due to increased SUV and truck sales.
While SUV and truck sales are enjoying a renaissance, fuel economy has remained a priority for new vehicle buyers. A JD Power & Associates study found that 14% of respondents identified fuel economy as their chief concern when choosing a new vehicle. 16% of potential car buyers immediately rule out a vehicle with poor fuel economy. Even during times of affordable gas prices, the issue of fuel economy remains a major priority in the car buying process.
Consumer Reports believes fuel-efficiency should always remain a top priority for car buyers, even when gas prices drop. The article opines that there are collective, as well as individual, benefits to buying a fuel-efficient vehicle. Collectively, the environment benefits as there is less overall carbon emitted into the atmosphere. Individually, less time is spent pulling into gas stations, and the savings equation remains the same, regardless of gas prices. “Even during dips in gas prices, fuel-efficient vehicles can save consumers money, no matter what size of vehicle they are looking for, and are a smart hedge against the inevitable rise in gas prices.”
Gas prices are low today, but virtually no prognosticator believes this will be an enduring trend. The price of gasoline is notoriously volatile, and we will undoubtedly see increases in the future. Regardless of gasoline prices, fuel economy should be a lasting priority. Purchasing a fuel-efficient vehicle benefits the environment, individual consumers, and acts as an insurance policy against future oil spikes.