Three years ago, with gas prices on the rise, one of my friends got tired of pouring $ into her F250 for going to/from work, shopping, etc. She absolutely needed the F250 to pull her horse trailer, but it was paid off. So she put it in her garage for the occasions when it was really needed and bought a Mazda 3 for most of her driving. You can imagine the reduction in her annual gasoline consumption. Likewise, we have a Chevy Suburban for hauling our horse trailer. Three years ago I was also using it about 90 miles a day to commute to work. I didn’t make as dramatic a switch as my friend, but I replaced my main ride a few months after she did and now get about 50% better fuel mileage than I did with the Suburban. My wife made a more subtle move recently, as she switched within the same category, resulting in a 20% mpg improvement. And I just learned our horse trainer relegated her F250 to limited duty in favor of a Subaru.
Rural America is adapting. The most interesting trend is that those of us who need a large SUV or truck aren’t going to get rid of them. But we are going to find ways stop using them for our daily travel. There are lots of implications from this. For one, actual fuel economy in the U.S. may grow much faster than predicted (or that appears in the official numbers) because although the fleet still contains many inefficient vehicles they aren’t driven much. On the good side (for the consumer), these trucks will last us a lot longer than planned. I certainly would have replaced our 2001 Suburban already if it were still being used on a daily basis. Now it is very likely we won’t replace it until 2011 or beyond. That’s bad for auto manufacturers. But there is something even worse. I purchased the 2001 Suburban fully loaded. When I replace it, since I know I won’t be using it very much, I’m likely to go for a more stripped-down vehicle. There goes a major reason that big SUVs and trucks have been so profitable for the manufacturers.
On a sadder note, I’d love to use Biodiesel in the two tractors we have on our ranch. It wouldn’t save a lot of oil in absolute terms, but it would be a pretty painless change at a time when every gallon counts. Unfortunately, the nearest source of Biodiesel is so far away (and out of the way) that we’d burn up the savings in the extra fuel required to acquire the biodiesel! It’s become quite easy to find E-85 where I live, although I have no vehicles capable of using it. But B5, B20, or B100? No way.