By on May 3, 2010

We love us some data here at TTAC, and since we’re already looking at a grip of sales data today, we thought we’d add this excellent infographic that appeared in Sunday’s New York Times to the mix. It depicts America’s per-capita miles driven on the x-axis, and the price of gasoline on the y-axis, and shows that the two aren’t as inextricably linked as some might have thought. As we try to make sense of monthly sales data and look for “the new normal,” this kind of data provides a crucial context for month-by-month trends. We hope you find it as enjoyable and illuminating as we did.

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15 Comments on “What’s Wrong With This Picture: Progress, Or Something Like It Edition...”


  • avatar
    lanetru

    hate it when the relevant NYT editor gets something simple wrong…

    the purported independent variable (gas) should be the X-axis. grrrrr. though i get the gist of what was trying to be done.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    It is an interesting plot, but I firmly believe that Americans will continue driving a lot – and not always efficient vehicles – no matter what the price of fuel.

    The miles per year seems to vary more with time than fuel price, which I suspect is a function of demographic changes in the country: i.e., more people living and commuting from the suburbs rather than remaining as city dwellers.

  • avatar
    twotone

    To me this (poorly created) graph says one thing — miles driven are not related to the price of gas. There are too many other dependent variables — where you live, where you work (if you have a job), telecommuting, price of airline tickets, where you kids moved, phase of the moon, alignment of the planets, etc. Figures don’t lie, but liars can figure.

    Twotone

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    I like to bring this out ehen people complain that the world is ending as gas prices hit 2.50/3.00/3.50 etc…

    • 0 avatar
      BDB

      Amen. The transition will be less painful than the doomsayers predict. The summer of 2008 wasn’t painful ONLY because of $4 gas, it was painful because we had $4 gas on top of a recession we had been in for six months. If the economy was booming and incomes were rising, it would have been a minor nuisance to adjust to, , not a clusterf**k.

    • 0 avatar
      dhanson865

      @BDB We had the fortune of watching the price go above $5 here in Knoxville, TN.

      It’s hard to find old articles on the web in a hurry so here is one from http://www.chattanoogan.com/articles/article_135010.asp that mentions wholesale gas price at $5 here.

  • avatar
    calvin1234

    Last summer I bought a new Ford Focus so I wouldn’t have to significantly change my driving habits when gas goes up again….

  • avatar
    Russycle

    It would be interesting to see why we’re driving twice as much as we did 40 years ago. Growth of the suburbs, women entering the work force, what else?

    • 0 avatar
      CC_Stadt

      Far be it from me to cite laziness as a potential factor, but this graph does bring to mind the considerable number of times I’ve been looked at by fellow citizens as something akin to an alien life form simply for WALKING down the side of the (heavily used) street.

  • avatar
    Greg Locock

    Maybe, just maybe, as twotone alludes to, the perceived cost of driving a car includes more than the price of gas. In reality if you are driving 15000 miles a year your new car is probably costing of the order of 50c per mile, so 5c/mile due to changes in the price of gas is neither here nor there.

    Here’s the Australian figures for afew cars, I think they assume 10000 miles per year.

    http://www.goauto.com.au/mellor/mellor.nsf/story2/5BCE0A6DD04BDAC4CA25719500188735

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    I like the graph. Main driver is time. People like to car it. Thats easy to explain.

  • avatar
    Boff

    It’s been a long time since 9th grade…but that there ain’t a function.

  • avatar
    martin schwoerer

    Well, of course there is a link.

    Over the years, the *real* (inflation-adjusted) price of gas has gone down. And the average number of minutes people have to work to afford a gallon of gas has gone down even more. So people travel more by car — it doesn’t take an Einstein to come to that conclusion.

    There’s a time lag between price and consumption too, so a short-term price spike doesn’t have that much of an influence.

    If real prices go up, many people will change their behavior. (Not all people — just many people, and enough to make a difference). People always do. It’s kinda like a law of economics, you know.

    • 0 avatar
      cdotson

      Agreed Martin.

      I’d like to have their raw data (rather than interpolate from the graph). It would best be plotted using a common x-axis variable of time/year, and two separate dependent axes for each miles driven and fuel cost. You’ll have two trace lines, but you’ll see the relationship much more intuitively.

      In the immediate/short term the correlation factor between miles driven and fuel cost is very tiny. Behaviors that drive fuel consumption and miles driven are not always easy to switch, as in it takes time for most folks to change the vehicles they drive or the place they live or work. Over the long term, and over the term of the majority of time reflected on the graph shown, inflation-adjusted fuel price drops and miles driven per year increase in a pretty well-correlated fashion. Any deviation from that typical slope is related to geopolitical instability.

      The problem with determining the “new normal” is that geopolitical instability appears to be the new “normal.”

    • 0 avatar

      Exactly right. The relation ship is there to see. The long term trend of gas prices is down and it’s inversely correlated to miles driven. Large price spikes will cause a reversal, but only after a several month to several year lag time. The bigger and longer lasting the price increase, the greater the reversal.

      Really not a terribly suprising graph…


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