US gasoline consumption in the first quarter of 2012, which averaged about 8.5 million barrels per day (bbl/d), was down 124 thousand bbl/d compared with the same time last year, continuing the trend of lower consumption and higher prices, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).
However, EIA noted, the second quarter of 2012 shows some signs of higher consumption. Gasoline prices since the beginning of May 2012 were lower than the same time last year, and gasoline consumption showed some very modest gains in April and May.
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US gasoline consumption peaked in 2007 at 9.3 million bbl/d and fell by an average of 3.2% (300 thousand bbl/d) in 2008 due to the recession and high gasoline prices, which topped $4 per gallon in June and July 2008. Gasoline prices fell in late 2008 and remained below $3 per gallon through 2009 and 2010, but gasoline consumption remained flat, increasing by just 0.1% in 2009 and falling slightly in 2010.
Regular-grade gasoline prices rose in early 2011; in response to higher prices, households again cut back on highway travel, and gasoline consumption fell by 2.9% (260 thousand bbl/d) in 2011 from the year before.
Along with prices, current economic conditions and vehicle fleet efficiency have also affected gasoline consumption. The amount of highway travel, and thus motor gasoline consumption, is generally linked to economic conditions. Real Gross Domestic Product for the first quarter of 2012 was 2.4% higher than it was in the same period a year earlier, and preliminary data indicate that the growth rate was slightly lower during the second quarter, at 2.2%. However, Real Personal Disposable Income, which also affects gasoline consumption, has been growing at a much lower rate in 2012, namely 0.1% during the first quarter, with preliminary data for the second quarter indicating a growth rate of 1.3%.
This helps explain why gasoline consumption was relatively low during the first
three months of 2012, but may be showing some slight growth in the second quarter compared to data from a year earlier, EIA said. Another factor affecting gasoline consumption is increases in vehicle fleet fuel efficiency that help reduce gasoline consumption, as more efficient vehicles use less fuel for each mile driven.