Sorry if I'm dragging up an old thread but I can't help adding my two cents, as I'm from Europe
First off, my start with hypermiling is directly linked to our fuel prices. I spend about 3,8 euros per US gallon of gas. That's about five dollars a gallon at current exchange rates. And Slovenia is actually one of the cheaper countries as far as fuel is concerned, in neighboring Italy, it's a third more expensive (so six and a half dollars per US gallon). This is mainly because of very high taxes on fuel.
Second, we have many more small cars. I've heard that the Smart car will soon be sold in the US, well, we have quite a few cars of similar size. Even in general, small cars such as the Toyota Yaris, Renault Clio or Volkswagen Polo are very common and popular. Many are now getting diesel engines as well, if I remember correctly the most economical non-hybrid car was the Volkswagen Lupo 3L
, which had a small diesel engine and regularly got above 70 MPG. Pickup trucks are very rare, though SUV's are (sadly) becoming more common. But even in these, diesel engines greatly outnumber regular gasoline engines. One of the reasons small cars are popular is (besides the parking problem I'll mention in a sec.) is because the registration tax and insurance is just so much cheaper.
One more thing I've noticed (note that I lived in the US for quite a few years) is that in Europe, people tend to use more public transport, especially since our cities tend to have less parking spaces than US ones (and they tend to be less car-friendly overall).
As for the question if chinese cars would pass US safety standards, I seriously doubt it, as I know a few were prohibited from being sold in the EU (which Slovenia is a part of) since they were demed too dangerous. I've seen pictures of a couple of crash tests done on something called a Brilliance
, which got one star out of a possible five... not pretty, let me tell you.