Vintage Wheels #11: Deep Thoughts on Oil

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My grandfather drove a gigantic Cadillac; a literal Leviathan of the road.  The thing probably got 5 miles per gallon. He didn't care.  Nobody cared until the oil crisis in the seventies.  All of a sudden you saw economy cars littering the parking lots of America: AMC Pacers, VW Rabbits, Bugs, Chevettes and dare I speak its name.... Gremlins.  Most were ugly as sin, but they were better on the pocketbook than those gas guzzling El Dorados.

Nowadays you find cars with names like Prius and hybrids like the Insight.  It's all very "green" and Earth conscious, and less about saving dough.  I mean, people in the 70's drove crap like the Mercury Bobcat because they were strapped for cash... not because they wanted to.  Today, poor folks aren't buying the Prius', they're riding around in used and abused gas guzzlers.... the Cooper is out of their price range by a mile.

So, what's my point? My point is that I'm really curious about what's going to happen when this whole oil thing hits bottom again (which it inevitably will) in regards to our rides. Here's a few possibilities.

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1. Prius' go for just under twenty grand.  I'm sorry, but genuinely low income families will not be owning one of those.  I can only assume truly economical cars will start hitting the market... Yugo equivalents, you could say.

2. Back in the seventies, an hour and a half commute was unheard of.  No one spent anywhere near an hour in their car just to get to work!  The urban sprawl has spread us out of the metropolitan areas and the adjacent 'burbs.  Now people live in subdivisions and gated communities with rustic names like Deer Creek and Willow Brook far, far from the city center.

That type of everyday commute may not be practical anymore.  Perhaps this will mean people will begin buying homes closer to work.  This would be a win-win because of less gas consumption and a potential rejuvenation of downtown areas.  This sort of thing is already happening where I live.

3. One thing that's undeniable is that there's a whole lot more people on the road today than ever before.  Is it possible that public transit systems will begin to flourish? More people means more butts in seats paying money to ride.

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We are at a critical point in our country's love-hate relationship with oil.  We have three options:

(1) Continue being helpless junkies begging for more crude from our oil sheik pimps

(2) Drill, mother f#%*er! Drill!

(3) Come up with a fuel alternative.  Maybe hydrogen bricks, maybe recycled waste, maybe pork chops and applesauce..... I don't care, just something for chrissake.

Anyone old enough to remember 1973 will recall the helpless feeling of the "great superpower" America being at the whim of OPEC.  When we ditched the gold standard our dollar basically deflated.  The Arabs decided to compensate for this by jacking up the price.  Hence the Pacer, Gremlin, etc.

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Surely we are not stupid enough to remain OPEC hoes much longer.  And surely we're not so short sighted as to destroy our environment to satiate our oil dependence.  So, that leaves #3 - come up with something innovative.  With Osama Bin Laden sleeping with the fishes, it seems like as good a point as any to start making this a priorty.  Bottom line: In 2035, I want the Jetson's spaceship not the new '36 Prius. Ya dig?

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  1. I live in a city that prides itself on being one of the 'bike friendliest' in the country. I guess that includes being run off the road, flipped off, yelled at and nearly hit by people (with one vehicle contact last year) while in the bike lane.

    Our local paper did a piece last year about expanding bike lanes and people biking to work more and the comments were full of hate.

  2. Long time reader, first time poster.

    I'm glad you mentioned public transportation. Re-investing in trains and buses would seem to be the immediate answer, but in many cities, there's nowhere near enough money for them (leading to raised fares and service cuts), and state governments seem unwilling to help out. A solution that has worked in other countries is to impose a fee on cars entering the central business district of a city during weekday business hours. The money raised would go towards public transit, as well as fixing roads and bridges.

    As for bicycles, yes, there has been opposition to them from those who want to maintain the status quo, but the fact is that as much as cars are romanticized in this country, they're also highly dangerous and kill or injure tens of thousands of people on an annual basis. The changes made to city streets as a result of bike lanes have been statistically proven to slow down traffic, making city streets safer for everyone that uses them - including cars.

    If we're gonna reduce our oil dependency, we need to rethink how we use our streets.

  3. For every Prius I see in Silicon Valley, I see 10 SUVs. In the rest of the West, I see 10 pickup trucks to every economy car.

    Americans don't care about prices--they want big vehicles. Gas here is $4.50 a gallon btw.

    The US is drilling all over former reserves in the Dakotas right now. They always try to get the Alaska Reserves and off-shore stuff going. But we'll continue to suck OPEC until dry...or electric vehicles finally get the battery range/life sorted.

  4. White collar people need to work from home. My truck's about 5 or 6 years old and only has 20-some thousand miles on it. There's no sense in going into an office if you rarely meet with people or have to process paper. That is by far one of the biggest wastes of fuel we have these days. The roads around here are clogged with people who will sit in a cube all day and use their computer. They can do that from home.

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  6. You don't need a Prius, or any other kind of brand new hybrid car to get good MPG. Cheap cars that get 35-40MPG have been on the market for the past 30+ years.

    The majority of Americans drive a 15 MPG SUV. They aren't even trying to get good MPG, and then they bitch about the price of gas (even though its cheaper here than anyplace else you'd probably want to live).

    When things get really bad, not, "Where will I find money for the casino and cigarettes?" bad, actually bad, like, when no matter how money you have you still can only buy 10 gallons a week bad, then the SUVs will all be recycled and people will go back to driving actual cars again. Who knows, maybe they'll like it.

  7. We could drill every baby seal in the arctic until the ice cap (or whatever's left of it) is black as tar, and it still wouldn't matter. Oil is a global market, and it would just go into the "pool" where anyone who's willing to pay, and China and India are more than willing, gets it. There's not enough of it, anyway, to bring gas down more than a couple dimes for a couple years. The truth is we're running out. Or, perhaps more accurately, we're running out of it in any sort of economically feasible forms and locations. There's lots of tar sands in Alberta that they're converting to oil, but it's costly.

  8. I'm convinced that part of the reason for the rising gas prices is to get more Americans dependent upon hybrid or electric cars. The problem with that, as you pointed out, is that some of these models are so expensive to the point of being unacceptable, especially as many households continue to struggle in this economy. The Chevy Volt is around $43K, which for many people is the equivalent of a year's salary. Also, the performance on electric cars are subpar...Consumer Reports drove the Nissan Leaf and said that cold winter compromised its driving range and performance. And yeah, while you may be saving money not paying for gas I'd be curious to know what charging a car overnight, every night, for 10 hours at a time does to someone's electric bill.

  9. This is the way it will go: whatever will make billions of dollars for the few people who control worldwide business, be they Americans, Arabs or Asians, that's what we'll do. We could've turned around technology starting in the '70s, but no one gave it more than a half-assed effort. As long as BP makes record profits every year, there will not be meaningful change. I would love to see a Jetson's future, but it's looking more like The Road Warrior.

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  11. I think as long as Big Oil continues to make money hand over fist they will control the politicians. As long as they control the politicians there will be no serious attempts to expand public transport in this country. Big Oil will continue to make money hand over fist until they've sucked every drop out of the Middle East, the bottom of the ocean and your back yard.

    BTW, my first car was a Gremlin. My second car was a Camaro.

  12. AnonymousMay 05, 2011

    Electric vehicles are still too expensive and not flashy enough for Americans. (I'm not really sure why the prerequisite of electric cars is to be hideous in appearance, but that's another issue altogether) The focus needs to be put on the lower-mid income level consumer. Getting low emission vehicles in the hands of the rich elite will have no major affect on our oil dependency. Could you imagine how many electric/hybrid automobiles would be on the roads RIGHT NOW if the price range was $5,000 - $7,000 new??? I know that's probably an unrealistic number... but our roads would be littered with hybrids and the SUV would become a dinosaur overnight.

  13. AnonymousMay 16, 2011

    The thing about something like the Volt is that it's the first generation of the technology it uses, and like all other first-generation tech the price'll come down in successive generations (remember $2000-plus desktop computers in the '80s? 25 years of inflation later that's the very upper edge of the mass market and the bottom is $500).

    We're not used to seeing that in the automotive sector-indeed, the reason body-on-frame SUVs were pushed so hard for so long was that a cheap pickup-truck chassis could, with the alchemy of a station wagon body and maybe some leather seats, be sold at a luxury-car price.