By on August 25, 2011

Edmunds’ always dead-on Autoobserver brings us the shocking news that Americans don’t drive enough. That, or they use the wrong cars. Whatever it may be, Americans are about to lose the carefully cultivated title “world’s biggest gasoline oinkers.” Gasoline consumption hit rock bottom in July!

Says Edmunds:

“U.S. demand for gasoline last month was at its lowest for July in a decade as the slower-than-expected economic recovery appeared to cause many people to either cut back on driving or buy more fuel-efficient cars. U.S. refinery gasoline production in July dropped 2.3 percent from a year earlier, marking the first year-over-year drop for 2011, the American Petroleum Institute (API) said in a report released late last week.”

There are multiple reasons for people taking a pass on gas. Let’s investigate.

“Gasoline demand relative to previous summers appeared to be hindered by a stubbornly high unemployment rate,” says Edmunds. Aha! We aren’t prudent, we’re po!

“Consumers aren’t spending, and jobless claims have increased, so it isn’t surprising gasoline demand was down and overall demand slipped a bit,” John Felmy, Chief Economist at the petroleum-pushing institute moaned.

Horrible: Not only do Americans buy less gasoline, they also save on overalls!  What’s next? A resurgence of streaking?

Americans indeed develop nasty habits: They buy miserly cars, and – OMG! – they drive less. Over to you, Edmunds:

“Americans appear to have increased purchases of four-cylinder cars, even as deliveries for many small-engined models from Japanese automakers such as Toyota and Honda were hindered by the tsunami and earthquake that struck Japan in March. General Motors’ Chevrolet Cruze compact sedan accounted for 10 percent of the automaker’s unit sales through July, while Ford Focus unit sales increased 7.3 percent and the relaunched Fiesta sales were way up.”

Subcompacts aren’t taking over America – yet. According to Edmunds,  they “accounted for 4.7 percent of U.S. vehicle purchases during the first seven months of the year.” But there is a nasty little trend:

“Sub compact sales are up from 3.6 percent a year earlier, while the propensity to buy entry level SUVs and luxury cars as well as large trucks are down this year, according to statistics compiled by So while consumers may be responding to economic signals that are mixed at best, car-buying habits may be tilting as well.”

That’s not all. Americans are giving up their hard-earned freedom of driving anywhere, anytime, anyfar. Chief Economist Lacey Plache paints a grim picture:

“We have been in an economic soft patch this summer. There is quite likely decreased demand for driving vacations and other non-essential driving due to higher gas prices since late February and due to still weak economic conditions.”

We can’t have that, Best & Brightest. Stop what you are doing. Cease reading immediately (even TTAC – it’s for a good cause.)  Hop in your car, warm up that engine before starting, drive like Jack, and for Pete’s sake – fill ‘er up on your way home!

Take the scenic route.

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27 Comments on “Git Yer Cars! Peak Oil Needs You!...”

  • avatar

    I find myself riding a motorcycle much more than before to get to work, not just to go out on Sunday rides. My car averages mid 20 on my commute to work. My motorcycle usually hits high 40s low 50s on regular, instead of premium like my car.

    If I tally up my fuel expenses YTD, I have spent the same as last year, but I have driven an additional 8,000 miles.

    • 0 avatar

      Yup. I’m seeing a lot more motorcyclists around now that gas is a little pricier. Hey, I’m a fan: it’s more fun, and I can get a solid 50 mpg even when I ride like a jackass.

    • 0 avatar

      Riding to work on a motorcycle always used to mean that I was AWAKE when I got there. A good way to stay employed!

      The bicycle that I’m riding to work these days isn’t quite as exciting, but it is both faster and cheaper than a motorcycle or a car in my particular circumstances.

      I’m saving up for LEAF for the wife, and some sort of kid/cargo hauler for myself.

    • 0 avatar

      How about the insurance costs in the US? How much do you pay for what kind of motorcycle?

      • 0 avatar

        Age and coverage dependent – but $300 yearly for 3 Dual Sport bikes all under 600cc with half a million aggregate coverage, clean record, older than 35 is a good representation. Ride a Sport bike or a $20k Harley, steeper – but not rapacious.

        In general maintenance on motorcycles is much more expensive per mile than autos – but again model dependent. If you can adjust valves, change your own oil – handy in general – its much more reasonable. Take it to the dealer…God help you.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      Wow, gas costs more so people drive less and downsize. Whodathunkit? I guess gas demand _is_ elastic after all, depending on your timeframe.

      It’s almost like you could get more tax revenue from gas instead of having to install mileage spies and taxing mileage, except the State wouldn’t get to know where you are and where you were going all the time.

  • avatar

    So this means the price of gas is about to plummet, right?

    • 0 avatar

      Only if the rest of the world cuts down on usage as well. Petroleum is a global market, subject to global demand. And even if global demand fell, I would expect producers to reduce supply accordingly.

    • 0 avatar


      The BRIC nations (with exception to Brazil) will continue to accelerate consumption, especially China and India. What we don’t buy they will gladly buy and use up.

      It’s a global market, and the price of gasoline we see today has a lot less to do with our home market consumption and has a lot more to do with global demand, over zealous regulations, and the very weak US dollar.

      It will hopefully shut the eco-weenies up when we get passed for the biggest consumer of oil in the world, and continue to sink to 4th or 5th place in the next 20 to 25 years.

      It won’t be due to environmental action – it will be largely because of increased consumption on the global markets, and a graying demographic.

      • 0 avatar

        Since the economy of my region in my country is dependent on Japan and a BRIC country, I shall guzzle more oil so you Amerikans don’t have to. You don’t have to feel guilty no more. Rejoice!!!

      • 0 avatar

        From a population perspective the US is number 3 or 4 (if you count the EU as one) in the world. I don’t see how the US could collapse to a number 5 position without collapsing itself

  • avatar

    Theres a whole bunch of us baby boomers, that need to, for the first time in our lives, survive on a budget. If the price of gas goes up and you either adjust your budget,or drive less.

    Many of us have dumped our second,or third car. A whole lot of my peers have sold thier boats,ATVs and Snowmobiles.

    A few years ago all my friends had 4X4 Trucks, some still do, but thier hardly driven.

    Times have changed.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve seen several stories about how marinas are struggling to survive as pleasure boating drops off drastically. I expect that the bars catering to snowmobilers are going to have a tough winter as well.

    • 0 avatar

      The baby-boomer generation have been fooled into thinking that their nation is rich. When in reality it was all borrowed wealth from thin air in the last 70 years.

  • avatar
    George B

    Not driving to work is probably the major factor causing gasoline demand to go down.

    I think more Americans are buying 4 cylinder cars because 4 cylinder cars are no longer penalty boxes. They can offer room for adults, zero-to-sixty times around 8 seconds, and highway fuel economy numbers better than 30mpg.

    Incremental efficiency improvements in relatively thirsty vehicles save more gasoline than similar percentage changes to fuel sippers. Pickup trucks still win the sales volume race, but the new ones are significantly more efficient than old ones.

  • avatar

    jobless claims have increased

    According to the Department of Labor, total claims have been falling and first-time claims seem to have plateaued. So no, that isn’t it.

    Consumers aren’t spending

    Except for June, consumption increased during the first half of 2011. It also increased every month during 2010. So no, that isn’t it, either.

    But we are certainly driving less. Driving mileage during 2011 has dropped about to the level that it was in 2004.

    And consumption is about 5% below what it was in 2007.

  • avatar

    Don’t discount the possibility that Americans are shifting in their attitudes about using petroleum, whether due to the environmental issues or the geopolitical issues. While not as prominent in our thinking as our pocketbooks, these other matters tilt our decision making towards less consumption.

  • avatar

    Coming soon to a state house near you. Politicos wailing that not enough money is being collected in gasoline and diesel sales taxes and something must be done to stop this decline!!!

    Here in Puget Sound, at ground zero on the war on the car, between manufacturered congestion, militant cyclists, and endless construction, the state, county, and locals have done about everything they can to suck the joy out of driving. Just getting into a car and driving for fun.

    I adore an open road, well cared for, a great suspension, power under my right foot, and the capacity to at least pass every other gas station I see. I don’t think that is asking a lot. Where I live – simply doesn’t exist.

    Spent a couple of weeks out on the real coast and was so pleased to see that the backroads of central Massachusetts, southern New Hampshire and central Maine still lend themselves to enthusiasts; but the overall miles of available tarmac to just ENJOY a drive is getting smaller, and smaller, and smaller.

  • avatar

    My personal situation: I figured out that it takes me only five minutes more to ride my bike to work instead of drive in current conditions (see below), so that’s 60 to 100 miles less driving per week and that much less gas purchased.

    I am fortunate to be employed… underemployed, actually, which still beats unemployed. 2/3 less take home pay than five years ago doesn’t leave me much gas money for discretionary driving. Time for a nice, long bicycle ride instead.

    Finally, there’s deteriorating roads and seemingly endless construction projects (irony?), compounded with more people migrating into my city (several thousand per month at last count). Just getting across town by car is becoming a major pain in the ass.

    New auto parts and essential fluids and lubricants seem to become more expensive every time I turn around (I perform all repairs and maintenance on my cars). And thanks to scrap prices, even a lowly non-running parts car on Craigslist is going for $500 and up.

    Add it all together and the pleasure I used to take from motoring around town is gone… driving sucks. This is heavy, heavy admission to make as a life-long gearhead, but there you have it.

    I’d just chalk all of this up as anecdotal evidence, but I know I am far from alone, and perhaps even more typical than I imagine.

    • 0 avatar

      @turtletop: I faced a similar situation, after 20+ years of increasing salaries (and responsibility, too), I was crammed down 22% in pay and other bennies a couple of years ago. My wife’s company was forced into bankruptcy, but at least she got to keep most of her payscale. Her benefits went out the window, too.

      As a result, we ain’t buying anything we don’t have to. I realize I’m fortunate to be working, and live in a mid-sized midwestern city that has pretty good services. I haven’t had to do so yet, but this winter I may start taking the bus to work; as I work right across the street from the main station. I think it will save me a few bucks, even though all of my cars are 4 cylinder models.

      I used to live in a major US city, and that’s where my love affair with cars and driving took a big hit. Since moving back to the midwest, I’ve fallen back in love with driving (kind of) and cars (to be sure), but with the economic situation the way it is, I find very few ways to express my enthusiasm.

  • avatar

    >>Hop in your car, warm up that engine before starting, drive like
    >> Jack, and for Pete’s sake – fill ‘er up on your way home!

    Done! Zoom zoomed around several clover leafs in my Mazda, and filled up on premium even though it takes regular! :)

    But I don’t think it helped much. The four banger averages 27 mpg overall, and the engine is PZEV, making it almost as clean as a hybrid.

  • avatar

    Those who ARE driving will be noticing more potholes, broken pavement and debris in the road soon. Our road construction and maintenance is based on the user fees of state and federal fuel taxes. They’re paid by drivers as cents per gallon, not a percentage of the price, and less fuel bought means less road construction, reconstruction and maintenance.

    Those who drive for pleasure can expect a bumpy ride, more tire and suspension wear, and a multitude of chips in the front clip, plastic headlight lenses and windshields. Our roads can go to Hades in a very short time, even with reduced traffic, a much shorter time than it will take our government braintrust (yes, I actually typed that) to find another way of financing roads and bridges.

    • 0 avatar

      Why so called “rich” nations don’t use concrete (i.e. cement and gravel) for roads is beyond me. The roads that were built by our dictator in the late 60s require absolutely no maintenance except paint for lane markings and a few drops of asphalt for gaps every few meters (though I think they do that every several years or so or never). Sure the roads are rough but that’s what an air suspended Mercedes is for (too bad I’ve yet to afford that.)

      • 0 avatar

        That dictator probably used retired roadcrews from our former dictator. The concrete-slabs-with-asphalt-gaps style used to be the signature style of the Hitlerite Autobahn, and continued to live (in a way) in the then East Germany.

  • avatar

    With the exception of a rarely driven (and sadly departed) XJ6, all my cars have been 4-bangers for the past 20 years. If you’re not towing or chauffeuring the Osmond family, 4 cylinders is really all you need. Looks like more people are figuring that out.

    • 0 avatar

      On another car site a poster said it’s hard to pass using a 4 banger. I told him if you can’t overtake with a 4 then you really don’t know how to drive. I also told him that he is, indeed, an American. lolz

  • avatar

    C’mon B&B! I can’t carry everyone! My 100-mile-per-day commute began this week.

    Plus, we just got back from a road trip to St. Louis, but I can’t help that my car averaged 34.65 mpg either, but I’m trying to do my part!

    Thus far, I am still gainfully employed, but as we all know, that can change in a heartbeat. We’ll see how this goes. Once I have some time under my belt, in a few weeks I’ll report on my car’s overall average mpg on my new route.

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