Here is a sensitive automotive issue to consider: Gas prices are at an all-time high. They have been especially outrageous in the Midwest, in excess of $2.00 per gallon in the Chicago area for unleaded regular.
That is, they were that high until public officials put the gasoline tax on hold in the hopes that the action would lower the price to consumers. It worked. Prices dropped to around $1.70 a gallon.
A victory for consumers, right? Absolutely. At least in the short run. In the long run? Well, there's where it gets complicated.
First, despite the independent action of some oil producers to increase supply, prices will periodically rise again, so shelving the tax is a temporary measure at best.
Second, there are those who say that high gas prices aren't all bad. They can lead consumers to use public transit where available—and to demand more fuel-efficient and alternative-fueled cars. High prices have apparently done that in Europe, so why not here?
Fuel economy is an important issue. Engineers say so, as reflected in several Design News surveys. In our most recent automotive survey, which we'll publish in our October 2 Automotive Issue, engineers ranked fuel efficiency as the second most important engineering challenge facing the automotive industry in the next ten years. What came in first? Alternative-fuel systems.
Nothing motivates a company or industry to innovate more than customer demand. And there isn't much that pushes customers to demand more innovation than their feeling that they are paying too much for something.
Seen in that light, high prices, as painful as they are, may be the catalyst that will lead to more use of fuel-efficient and alternative-fuel technology—and rid us of gas guzzlers.
Is the gain worth the pain? You tell me.
I told you it was a sensitive and complicated issue.