US consumers of vehicle fuel don't have to be forced into conservation. When fuel prices rise, they know what to do.
Gasoline prices certainly rose in 2005. Everybody thought they were high in 2004, when, according to weekly Oil & Gas Journal data, the pump price averaged $1.83/gal. Last year's average jumped to $2.18/gal. In weeks following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the price exceeded $3/gal.
Questions arose during the year about why consumers weren't conserving. There were calls for mandatory consumption cuts.
But consumption numbers are in, and they show clearly that consumers conserved without being forced by their government to do so.
According to OGJ estimates compiled at the end of 2005, average gasoline demand for the year rose by only 0.3% from the year before to 9.135 million b/d (OGJ, Jan. 16, 2006, p. 18). At the beginning of the year, OGJ had predicted that the year's average gasoline demand would be up by 1.7% (OGJ, Jan. 26, 2005, p. 35).
This week, American Petroleum Institute reported similar gasoline numbers for 20050.4% growth in deliveries to 9.15 million b/d (OGJ Online, Jan. 19, 2006).
In a year of 4% growth in gross domestic production, puny growth in gasoline demand has to be a response to elevated price. That's conservation.
Other signs of conservation have appeared. Sales of sport utility vehicles plummeted this year. Auto-market watchers expect the fuel-guzzling, truck-like SUV to lose ground to the lighter crossover utility vehicle, which applies SUV styling to a car chassis.
And by all accounts, automobile dealers are selling hybrid vehicles, which promise greatly improved fuel-consumption efficiency, as fast as they receive them from manufacturers.
Although hybrid sales numbers remain low in comparison with total vehicle sales, they're growing. A Motor Trend article says Americans bought more than 205,000 hybrids last year. It cited a projection for 300,000 hybrid sales this year and 400,000 in 2007.
Apparently, Americans have made gasoline prices a primary factor in their driving and in their decisions about vehicle purchases. That's good. That's how conservation should work.
The next Editor's Perspective will appear online Feb. 3.
(Online Jan. 20; author's e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)