The paradox of fuel efficiency


Jeff Jacoby's excellent new article illustrates an important point about human behavior and buyer psychology. His main contention is that our national fuel consumption would not decrease even if vehicle fuel efficiency markedly improved.

This may very well be true.

By way of everyday example, let's say you were in the market for a new suit and were prepared to go to the mall and buy one for $400. Yet when you got there, the store was having an unadvertised 2—for—1 sale. Chances are, you would spend the same $400 you were planning on spending and purchase
(consume) TWO suits instead of one.

This is what's happened with the automobile market. Our fuel economy had doubled (14 mpg cars in 1972 to today's average 27.5 mpg cars per the 1985 CAFE requirements), but we now drive twice as much because fuel usage is half per car——bringing us back to the same point. Factor in population increases and societal changes (virtually all middle—class and up teenagers now have their own cars compared to 30—40 years ago when kids borrowed "Dad's" car), and there's our increased usage.

Steve Feinstein  9 24 05