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Gas purchases plummet

Gasoline consumption has long proved strangely impervious to shifts in the price of oil. No longer:

* Gas purchases have taken a massive nosedive: “Demand fell 5.5 percent last week.”
* Resale value of SUVs has plummeted: “There are far more truck-based SUVs being traded in than customers to buy them.”
* Prius sales are setting new records: “Toyota has sold more Prius cars in the first quarter of 2008 than all other major manufacturers have sold hybrids combined in the same period.”
* But drivers aren’t falling for the monster-truck hybrids: “Giving a four-wheel drive Tahoe a gas-electric hybrid engine raises fuel economy for city driving to 20 miles a gallon from 14…in a marketplace dominated by smaller hybrid models that can get more than 40 miles to the gallon.”
* New York City bike shops are running out of bikes: “They’re all gone. It’s wicked.”
* Los Angeles commuters have discovered the subway: “The number of passengers increased by more than 14% in the first three months of 2008.”
* LA isn’t alone: “Transit systems in metropolitan areas like Minneapolis, Seattle, Dallas-Fort Worth and San Francisco reported similar jumps. In cities like Houston, Nashville, Salt Lake City, and Charlotte, N.C., commuters in growing numbers are taking advantage of new bus and train lines built or expanded in the last few years.”
* U.S. driving miles took the sharpest one month drop in history: “11 billion miles less in March 2008 than in the previous March.”
* And this drop in driving miles truly is historically anomalous:

It remains to be seen how permanent these shifts in behavior are. Adjusted for inflation, gas prices really aren’t all that high. They’re high, to be sure, but not *that* high. Typically what happens when the price of oil jumps is that consumers whine a lot, then get used to the new price, and then revert to their old behavior. A lot hangs on whether the price increase is sustained.

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