AutoWeek | Published 05/12/06, 3:58 pm et
When I committed myself to southern Europe in 2001, before Sept. 11 of that year, a U.S. gallon of unleaded was selling for the equivalent of $3.10 in Italy based on an exchange rate of 88 U.S. cents per euro dollar. (There was still an abundance of leaded fuel for sale in Italy, too, and catalytic converters were a novelty.) Americans were paying about $1.70 per gallon in the hardest-hit regions.
Fast forward to the day on which I write this, and things have altered. There is no more leaded fuel in Italy, and catalytic converters are the law on new cars. No smoking in restaurants or bars, either. It now takes 1.24 U.S. bucks to buy one euro, and an average gallon of unleaded here runs me $6.59
. Americans are shaken to the core by the idea of maybe paying close to $4 per gallon this summer.
And diesel, all the rage in Europe, in 2001 was at a not-yet-horrible $2.85 a gallon. That same unit of fuel now hits us up for $6.13.
Depending on the per-barrel cost index you rely on, light sweet crude was averaging just less than $23 a barrel leading to Sept. 11. Checking the price now, $75 per barrel has been crested and only world economic trends could possibly rein it in soon.
What happened? Too much certainly to go into here—but either we all switch our everyday wheels to something that gets farther on a gallon of unleaded, or we adopt the new technologies and/or fuels that get us down the road in other ways. Or, alternatively, we suck it up and live with the reality of the much higher cost of upholding our American motoring values.
Here are my sweeping predictions looking on from Europe. The hybrid marketing fad will fade away like the Inside-the-Egg Scrambler, and Americans are going to rediscover the beauty of smaller cars and smaller-displacement motors. No more gargantuan six-door long-bed pickups with a bag of groceries in the third row and a yapping, wind-torn Shar-Pei pooch leashed to the trailer mount. We will start seeing families crammed into little Renaults once Renault returns to the United States in 2008—despite wily Renault chairman Carlos Ghosn’s recent statement Renault will never return to the States. He can’t fool me.
And California will wake up and not smell (nor see) the fumes produced by new diesel powertrains, just as we don’t over here.