Cheap Gas, at What Cost?

Posted by Beatrice Maynor on Jan 22, 2015 9:49:00 AM

There’s a lot in the news about the pros and cons of cheaper oil prices.

Gas prices are at an historic low. Sales of SUVs are up because people can afford to fill their bigger, thirstier tanks. Ford, Toyota, Fiat Chrysler and GM all saw increases in the sale of their SUVS according to a Bloomberg report. Theoretically more people are driving, simply because they can afford to do so. When gas prices were high, likely folks were more conscious of combining all of their errands into one trip, or sharing a ride, or riding the bus, or train.

Depending on your outlook, cheaper fuel prices may or may not be a good thing.



 The all electric Tesla S, pictured above, has a range of over 200 miles before a necessary recharge. 

We've heard about layoffs of steel workers because there’s less demand for the steel pipe they make for oil exploration and drilling. The motivation for finding new sources of oil has waned with the downturn of oil prices.

Yet it seems like hardly anyone is talking about the impact lower gas prices are having on the environment. At the very moment in time when we should be limiting greenhouse gas emissions, everyone and their less fortunate neighbor is on the road en masse storming down the highway at an increased rate. Some environmentalists go so far as to suggest that higher gas prices are necessary for consumers to demand mass transit solutions from their municipalities or choose alternative fuel vehicles.

I’m not all glass half empty though. Even though sales of SUVs are up, today’s SUV is not the gas glutton of its forbearer. The 2015 Lincoln Navigator gets 15 city and 20 highway miles per gallon (mpg); the first Navigators that rolled out in 1998 were at 11/15 mpg; so that’s good right? Well, better.

The Lexus RX was the best-selling 2014 luxury SUV in America according to J.D. Power. The 2015 RX 350 is getting 18 city, 25 hwy. The most popular domestic luxury SUV in 2014 was the Lincoln MKX, again reported by J.D. Power. The 2015 AWD model is at 17/23. Lexus has an option for the environment that Lincoln has yet to offer; that is, you can purchase a hybridized RX 450h that gets 30 mpg in the city and a respectable 28 on the highway.

One American automaker, Tesla, is already beyond hybrids, leading in all electric car manufacturing. Last summer, Tesla Motors released it patents, “in the spirit of the open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology”. So said Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO in a company blog, read it here. Navigant Research reports that BMW and Nissan are interested in sharing Tesla’s supercharger technology which might lead to global standards for charging stations.

One of the hurdles for electric cars is the need to construct charging stations; however, collaboration with other automakers could ease that burden for Tesla. Another hurdle is that the range of current electric models is below 100 miles per gallon gas equivalent, except the Tesla S sedan with a 265 mile range, but its price tag at around $80,000 is prohibitive. Keep your hopes up though, at this year’s Detroit Auto Show, GM revealed the conceptual “Bolt” expected to have a range beyond 200 miles and an expected cost of $30,000. Not to be outdone, Tesla plans to release a $35,000 all electric car with the same 250 mile range of its more expensive big brother. Maybe it’s time to take a much closer look at all electric vehicle options when you’re ready to replace your old Camry?

Par Martin Eberhard, Co-founder of Tesla Motors says electric cars with a 500-mile range are on the eventual horizon. He says that kind of range eliminates the need for charging stations and we’ll only need them in our homes, hotels and campgrounds. Read his blog about it here. You can almost hear the earth sigh in anticipation. 


Topics: GreenTechnology

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