There has been a lot of talk in the past few months on how Detroit has failed Americans by not producing smooth running, gas sipping, energy efficient cars. High gas mileage cars are a wonderful way to reduce emissions and fight global warming, or so it is said.
Well, not really, and the key is actual car use. Let's say I have been driving a gigantic General Fnords Gigantic SUV for the past few years. My budget for transportation is relatively fixed; I have $300 for gas a month, and I won't drive much over that. This pays a certain amount of miles traveled, that I will restrict to trips I really need when gas prices spike, and will cover maybe a couple of long weekend drives if the prices fall.
Now, let's say that I get tired of having to think twice before driving my monster-sized SUV to go out to buy some milk, so I get rid of it and buy an efficient, comfortable sedan from Japan. My new car gets roughtly twice the milleage, so I can drive much, much more and stay within budget - which means that I can drive more for the same price. This will probably translate that I will feel better about driving to Vermont once a month to the outlet stores, driving 10 miles to do groceries to use coupons at a specific store, and not even consider talking the bus to go to work as my car is oh-so-good in mileage.
The end result of a fleet with twice the mileage could well be a fleet that drives almost twice as much, clogging the roads with the same hopeless enthusiasm as before while feeling green and clean about it.
What is the better option? Well, a less popular one - one that makes people budget thinking on how much they drive. A higher gas tax is actually the one reliable way to make people reduce miles traveled, not just enjoy driving a bit more. This doesn't mean that Connecticut should raise this tax by itself -it something that makes more sense on a Federal level- but it should be on the table.