On Wednesday, January 2, oil finally hit $100 a barrel. The members of the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) had an online pool going as to when that would happen, with a $100 prize for the lucky winner. "This is truly a great day for the people who own America!" commented scribe Joseph Davis.
The price has been rising steadily since the beginning of last year, when it hovered around $50. The record high translates into $4 a gallon gasoline, which should be at the pumps by March or April. Let's see. At that price, the Hummer H2 (with a 32-gallon gas tank) costs $128 to fill up. It's not surprising that the company doesn't provide fuel economy numbers, but the H2 gets between 10 and 13 miles per gallon. So in as little as 320 miles, it will be time for another $128. Is it any wonder that the H2 is likely to follow the H1 into oblivion, after sales plummeted in 2006 and 2007?
I wish I could conclude from the imminent and ignominious fall of this bloated SUV that Americans have seen the light and will now turn to sensible, fuel-efficient sedans, station wagons and minivans (or maybe even use public transportation!). In contrast to the H2, the Toyota Prius, with a 12-gallon tank, gets 48 mpg. On $4 a gallon fuel, it will fill up for $48 and go almost 500 miles before needing that again. Plus, it comes with more utility than most SUVs. Sound good? Unfortunately, I've had all-too-many otherwise sensible Americans tell me that...
...to think that will happen anytime soon. The love affair is cooling, but old habits die hard. And the American auto industry is refusing to let them go quietly. The carmakers have gone to court numerous times to protect their right to sell big SUVs, even as its share of U.S. car and truck sales dwindles every year because of its unholy alliance with them. The New York Times reported January 4 that pickup truck sales had "hit the wall," with Ford's F-series down 13.2 percent in 2007, and GM's Silverado down 2.8 percent (despite $2,000 rebates). F-series losses were in part to blame for Ford's slip to the world's number three carmaker, placing after Toyota.
The Big Three recently joined with the Bush administration's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in rebuffing California's attempt to control greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, and that was all about protecting SUVs, too. Now California is suing, and many other states are joining the fight.
I live in Connecticut which, the last time I checked, had a Republican governor. But look who's standing up to the bosses of her own party! Governor Jodi Rell (R-CT) called the EPA action "truly a shame and a disgrace." This is in addition to California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, another Republican, calling the Bush administration "unconscionable."
Even if high oil prices weren't an issue, climate change would soon force them off the road. In the fight ahead of us, four-wheel drive will be no advantage.
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