Oil surged to a new height today, almost reaching $114 a barrel. Retail gas prices rose to a new record of $3.38 per gallon. Diesel jumped to $4.19. And AAA is warning that these prices will continue to rise. The first reaction might be to panic, or make a mad dash toward a single technology solution. But a recent talk by John German, manager of environmental and energy analyses at American Honda Motor Company, suggested that we remain calm.
Speaking at last month’s Auto FutureTech conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, German first cautioned the audience about overreacting to today’s high gas prices. He said, “Right now, we have the highest fuel prices we’ve ever had, but that’s not the real story.” German demonstrated how the cost per mile of driving today, when adjusted for inflation and for average fuel efficiency, is slightly less than it was in the 1970s.
“Our standard of living has gone up. The cost of driving a car for 1,000 miles in the 1970s—as part of disposable per capita income—was 6 to 7 percent. Last year, it was about 4 percent.” He said that gasoline would have to reach $4.50 per gallon before it took the same chunk out your pocketbook as it did in the good old days before the first oil crisis. “Not to minimize the impact, but don’t expect high gas prices to produce a game-changer.”
Then, German warned against the very notion of scrambling to find any single “game-changer.” He outlined a long list of “technology du jour” choices starting with methanol 25 years ago; electric vehicles 15 years ago; hybrids 10 years ago; fuel cell vehicles five years ago; ethanol two years ago; and plug-in hybrids today. “This kind of changing, building up a technology and when it doesn’t meet expectations, moving on to the next, is very disruptive. It’s something that, if at all possible, we need to avoid.”