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Survey: Rising Gas Prices Trigger Changes in US Driver Behavior; Consideration for Buying More Fuel-Efficient Vehicles as Primary Reponse Low

A new telephone survey of 1,000 Americans, conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs on behalf of Access America Travel Insurance and Assistance, has found that 67% have already changed their driving habits because of gas price increases.

Among those who have changed their driving, the median gas price at which they did so was $3.20 per gallon, a level that was reached back in March. As the price at the pump continues to rise, more and more Americans will be changing their driving habits, according to the survey:

  • At $3.00 per gallon, 35% of Americans had changed their habits;

  • At $4.00 per gallon—a reality in many parts of the US already—74% will change; and

  • By $5.00 per gallon, 85% of all Americans will have changed their driving habits.

About 9% say they will never change their driving habits, regardless of the how high the price climbs.

Those who have already changed their driving habits are particularly prevalent among adults with a household income of less than $50,000 per year (73%), parents of children under 18 (72%), those living in the South (72%) and those saying the country is headed on the wrong track (71%).

In an effort to save on gas, Americans first tend to reduce non-essential driving. More than a quarter (26%) say that cutting back on travel or recreational driving is the first substantial change they made or will make due to rising gas prices.

One in five (21%) say the first thing they did or will do is to consolidate or reduce errands (21%). Fewer Americans first look to alternate forms of transportation such as carpooling (7%), walking or biking when possible (6%), or using public transportation more often (4%). Only 3% say that the first thing they did or will do is buy a more fuel-economic car or a hybrid.

Proportions of Americans who first cut back on recreational driving as a response to higher gas prices vary little across age and income groups. However, those aged 55 and older are more likely than younger adults aged 18-54 to mention consolidating or reducing errands (30% vs. 18%). Southerners (12%) and those aged 18-34 (10%) are more likely than others to mention carpooling. Those making less than $25,000 (9%) and Northeasterners (7%) are more likely than others to cite using public transportation as their first response to higher gas prices.

The Ipsos poll was conducted 30 May – 2 June. For the survey, a nationally representative sample of 1,000 randomly-selected adults aged 18 and over residing in the US interviewed by telephone via Ipsos’ US Telephone Express omnibus. With a sample of this size, the results are considered accurate within ±3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, of what they would have been had the entire adult population in the US been polled. The margin of error will be larger within regions and for other sub-groupings of the survey population. These data were weighted to ensure the sample’s regional and age/gender composition reflects that of the actual US population according to data from the US Census Bureau.




It seems that some form of awakening is taking place. That is very good news. Wonder what it will be like when gas reaches $8+/gal.

A well known Canadian Oil expert (who has been right many times before) predicts:

1) Oil at $225/barrel by 2011/12.

2) gas at $2.25 CAN/liter
or about $8.80 USD/gal. by 2011/12.

3) major changes in North American car industry.

4) the huge worldwide success for the very low cost Tata Nano (and copies) will increase global fuel consumption.

5) third world fuel consumption increase will more than absorb all reductions from the industrialized nations.

6) agro-fuel production will continue to put pressure on food price.

7) Increased oil & NG export will drive the Canadian dollar at $1.05 USD by end of 2008 and higher by 2010/11.

It should be obvious that we need to make electric cars and get our power from renewable non-poluting sources like wind.

factory rat

Asking whether buying a fuel-efficient car is one's first response isn't very useful. What would be useful is knowing how what respondents will do when they next purchase a vehicle. Buying an efficient car would get a lot more than 3%

David Grener

I always find these sorts of polls a bit fishy, because people are not good at predicting their own behavoir. Sure, it's easy to say that "If gas hits $X a gallon I'll do Y" but the proof is in the pudding. Will people really drive less, drive slower (saving gas), carpool, etc or will they just say that they're going to, but never do it. Or do it for a short amount of time until they get used to $4/gal gas and then return to their old habits.

So far the trends are encouraging that people are using less gas and not finding it to be the terrible hardship they imagined it might. We've seen demand drop and nobody is walking 20 miles uphill both ways to work. Scooter shops and distributers are sold out of stock and have waiting lists for their vehicles. I see more bikes around and less SUVs these days, and sales of large vehicles are dropping as those in the market for a new car push fuel economy to the forefront.


In Ireland, diesel is e1.41 / litre or $8.37 / US gallon, gasoline is e1.31 / L, or $7.80 / US gallon.
Prices are up about 20% since the start of the year.
Life goes on.
People buy diesel or smaller gasoline cars.
Almost no-one has cars with > 3L capacity.
There are quite a few SUVs, but mostly diesel and mostly 2-3L capacity.
As people react to even higher prices, they will just buy smaller and more efficient cars.

Mostly diesel, petrol for people with lower mileage.
Not electric (not available) not hybrid (too expensive over here).
For reference, the Honda Jazz (Fit) is mostly sold with a 1.3L engine. The most common Toyota Yaris has a 1.0L (manual transmission) engine.
No-one dies as a result.
If you have a car that gets 50 mpg, you don't care so much how much fuel costs.


One thing to consider about third world demand is that many of these countries subsidize fuel. Oil has recently risen so much that India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and a few others have been forced to reduce those subsidies, raising the price of gasoline significantly. How does that affect global demand going forward? What would happen if China were to do the same?


unfortuntely behavioral changes cannot come very quickly, because of structural factors related to our modern economy. many people moved further away from major cities in the 80's-90's, with suburban growth fueled (no pun intended) by cheap oil. with the combination of larger vehicles, longer commutes and now a sour housing market, many people are trapped. while i cannot say that i agree with their choices in the first place, i certainly do not think that government should intervene and "help them out". these people NEED to suffer from high gas prices to teach them that their inappropriate and selfish actions have consequences.
i say let the market sort this problem out. as gas gets more expensive people will struggle to sell their bloated cars and bloated mcmansions and change their lifestyles to reflect new long as our government (whether repub or democrat, they all seem like a bunch of big-govt commies nowadays) does not intervene with more "bailouts" or subsidies.


This survey doesn't seem to fit with reality. The most obvious adjustment many people have made is to switch to the most fuel efficient car within a multi-car family. Junior's old 4-cylinder Japanese sedan is being driven instead of the SUV. Here in San Diego, it is rare to see a Hummer on the road anymore. In its place are lots of old Toyotas, Saturns, VWs and small pick-up trucks.

Secondly, new car purchases are heavily weighted to smaller, 4-cylinder transportation.


"Southerners (12%) and those aged 18-34 (10%) are more likely than others to mention carpooling."

This reflects:
a) fact that these towns and cities have grown via development that depends on cars for personal transport and the lack of a dense AND rapid mass transit network in many of these communities.

b) car pooling is at times faster than other forms of mass transit. You often know the other people (friends, neighbors, coworkers), and thus has a certain atmosphere to it. Its less private/solitary than a car w/1 occupant, but not as crowded as a bus or train. Its also flexible in the way taxis and vans are, but a bit less expensive.

"About 9% say they will never change their driving habits, regardless of the how high the price climbs."

I was one of the surveyed, and since I live in NYC, the above statement is true, because I take the subway most of the time, is true for me. Thus there might be a margin of error, though the magnitude depends on if the Northeast (esp cities well endowed with mass transit) was overrepresented.


Before you get too happy in europe remember america will be buying less of your stuff and less of chinas stuff wich will start to dampen the entire world econ even more. Its realy gona be fun when the market fairyland fun fest fractures in a big old FOOOM...

Fram what I have heard from my friends in the know we are definetlt looking at a massive bank crash on top of a car crash and housing crash and retail crash and and and...


Hi factory rat...Kind of agree with you...

But the survey seemed slanted toward getting people's first response to rising gas prices, which I did find interesting. The extreme lack of interest in public transportation as a first response except in v. low economic situations was a testament to America's lack of proper public transit.

"Southerners (12%) and those aged 18-34 (10%) are more likely than others to mention carpooling."
I can believe it

The study points to the willingness to lower demand but the barriers are 1) sunk cost of existing private vehicles and 2) lack of attractive transport options.

So, a serious policy would push 3 ways to lower consumption:

1. lower commercial vehicle fuel consumption by driving change there, where the replacement rate can be accelerated more readily by accelerating depreciation, etc.

2. drive retrofit options, such as mild hybrid retrofits, wherever possible. Think of Pickup and Urban Commercial Vehicle categories, where high cost reduction is likely and the larger engine compartments make retrofit relatively easy. This avoids the sunk- cost-of-existing-vehicle problem. It also pairs with new purchase to, in effect, turn over the existing fleet more readily.

3. expand public transit options whereever possible.

Quoting from HarveyD, who I'm guessing is quoting Jeff Rubin, Chief Speculator^H^H^H^H^H Economist, CIBC World Markets.

"4) the huge worldwide success for the very low cost Tata Nano (and copies) will increase global fuel consumption."

The current world-wide car population is something like 600 million vehicles. If we doubled that to 1.2 billion , and then made them all 2.5x more fuel efficient, and assumed they retained their current driving behaviors ...

(Note: Tata Nano is about 2.5x more FE than a normal North American car, but it is hardly its equal in terms of range and performance. This FE ratio also extends to the Prius:normal car and so forth. And when running the numbers, recall that PHEV's and other techniques that will convert the fuel problem into a more tractable electrical one, are on the horizon.)

"5) third world fuel consumption increase will more than absorb all reductions from the industrialized nations."

I guess this will happen ... if these countries are populated by idiots. Which is unlikely. A more reasonable outcome is this: places like India and China will tolerate the Nano and similar for a bit, but then realize that is an economic dead-end completely explored by the United States and Canada, and will move even more rapidly to electrification than we are.

And even if they ended up sucking it all up anyways, who cares? Let them pay high prices.



these people NEED to suffer from high gas prices to teach them that their inappropriate and selfish actions have consequences

Marc, I hope you don’t mean what you say here. This is classic effete green reactionism. Everybody makes mistakes. Remember that we are all connected and what hurts one will hurt all: …No man is an island… . These people can loss their jobs, their houses, their families …. Have some compassion. At least donate some can food at the food bank.


"US Energy Secretary Bodman Calls for Cuts in Global Fuel Subsidies". I agree, this would be a good thing. But does Bodman want to follow that to its logical conclusion and raise US tax rates in line with Europe?


Some are predicting the next big crash in the economy will occur in the credit card sector because people are using them to defer the higher prices of fuel and food, etc. Let us hope that the next President and Congress can at least set the stage to move us off our current fossil fuel economy and onto the only thing that makes sense, solar and electric drive transportation.


Axil...Stuff your 'effete green reactionism'.

For 35+years I drove 35, 50, 53 & 75mpg vehicles because I knew it would come to this. Gas wasters caused all the suffering including air pollution over the years that killed a lot of people.

Gas wasters didn't make mistakes. They had the money to waste & just didn't care what future they caused. I saved my sympathy for people who couldn't buy food thru the years & don't need your accusing pointed finger stuck in my face.


Litesong and Marc,
I'm with you on this and I don't think yours is an effete green reaction.

People behave in certain ways because they see either a reward for their actions or a cost to not acting. At $2 a gallon the reward is driving a nice big car that insulates you from the unwashed and living in a 4000ft2 mcmansion in the burbs built by cheap illegal labor. That is not a mistake - it is a conscious choice.

When I tell work colleagues I think $10 gas is long term a good thing they say "yes because you have kids and so you care about global warming." Actually I neither know nor care whether climate change is real - I do care that in 20 years time my 401K might be worthless and I might be huddled in a compound with a gun trying to protect my family and myself from bandits when we start to run out of affordable food.

Excess consumption is not a mistake - it is what humans do when not penalized economically or socially for it. The next 20 years will, I hope, usher in widespread behavioural change.

The Scoot

Ok, first off, the housing bubble crashed because of market manipulation. Ask anyone who knows anything about sub-prime loans. People deferring the high cost of gasoline and food defaulting on their credit cards will be absorbed with 21 plus APRs on the rest of us.

Secondly, the electrification of the North American transport sector has begun in earnest, already. Hybrid municipal buses, electric dock trucks, the Tesla Roadster, the Chevy Volt, the Toyota Prius...

Thirdly, subsidy of petroleum in developing Asia is a dead man walking. It simply is unsustainable. IRAN cut its subsidies.

Crisis and opportunity are often the same thing. North America is poised to drop off of the oil wagon.


Can't happen fast enough for me, Scoot.

One major difference between this energy crisis and past ones is the Internet. We have alternative means to get our shopping done, to socialize, and to commute to work. I was talking to someone yesterday whose business is to set up VPNs and routers for virtual networks. He's doing all kinds of business these days. And we're also reading about 4-day work weeks (10 hours a day) becoming more common.

We've barely begun to adapt to this.



i mean exactly what i say. it's insulting to me that you would say i should sympathize for someone who spent $40k on a giant suv that they most often used alone, $500k on a house 3 or 4 times the size they needed, and then comes crying when they realize it's all unsustainable, begging for handouts and a soft landing.
i use public transit or bike whenever possible. my wife and i live in a 720 square foot house. i try to minimize my impact when possible and take RESPONSIBILITY for my actions. and i reserve my sympathy for people who deserve it, like the families of our troops who died or were wounded getting oil for the same selfish people you defend.

and scoot-

good call. however, electrification is sorely lacking in places where it would have the greatest impact - namely, at truck stops and ports! how many truckers leave their class 8 running all night to power a tv, ac, etc? this is some of the real "low-hanging fruit".
however, most people who talk up vehicle electrification (and i don't know your situation) have very little knowledge of the utility industry. ask any EE who specializes in T&D and they will tell you what a dire state the electricity grid is in WRT future growth notwithstanding a huge load from EV's. we are going to need multi-trillion dollar upgrades in T&D infrastructure in our lifetimes to handle these upgrades, and we are not making that investment now. something to think about before a million chevy volts hit the road.


Hi Marc...If we learn our efficiency lessons, EVs have a good chance to be supported by good grids. First, electric motors are 3 times more efficient than ICEs. That's a big, big plus. I can take my electric bike & get to the next town on pennies. Efficiently built electric cars can do the same with marginally more pennies of electricity. My Northwest, many areas in Canada, in Europe, & around the world run well on renewable electric energy sources. Let the rest of the PUDs around the world learn.

Things are looking good. Our society just has to get the wasters out of its system.


Arabs are slowly killing their cash cow. With these prices it's just a matter of years before electric cars will become mainstream and what will all those petro-countries sell then?


Fellow GCC members, I have obviously walked into a buzz saw. It won’t happen again. Sometimes my compassion overwhelms my common sense.

I must admit to feeling glee when I see a BMW or a mega van broken down on the side of the road. I guess that is a common human felling; class hatred that is. Everyone is afflicted, no matter where they stand on the human latter.

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