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Franz Litz: Driving a Fuel-Efficient Car Makes Economic and Environmental Sense

The numbers are in for March auto sales and lo and behold, electric vehicles and gas-electric hybrid vehicles had their biggest month ever.  According to the Associated Press, consumers bought a record 52,000 gas-electric hybrids and electric vehicles in March, up from 34,000 a year ago. The higher numbers come –not coincidentally—as gasoline prices return to around $4 a gallon.

There have always been many good reasons to choose to drive the most fuel-efficient vehicles:

  • Burning less fuel means less pollution—the kind that leads to smog and the asthma and respiratory problems that come with smog, as well as the kind that leads to global warming. 
  • Much of our oil comes from overseas, and from countries that don’t always like the United States.  Buying less gasoline means less money to countries that wish us harm. 
  • Less dependence on the Middle East also means reducing the chances our armed forces will end up in armed conflict there. We should admit that the costs of our last three major wars are tied directly to the oil in that region.
  • Rather than giving more money to profit-drenched oil companies and foreign oil barons, you can spend it on other things that are more likely to stimulate the local economy.

Maybe none of these reasons were enough to get many Americans out of their SUVs, trucks or mid-sized cars.  Still, as gasoline prices hit $4 a gallon again, pain at the pump spikes.  The March car sales numbers suggest a lot of Americans are looking for ways to send fewer dollars to big oil companies.
This year has been a banner year for new electric and hybrid-electric models.  Consumers can chose from 35 different models.  And there are a number of conventional and diesel models that are claiming gas mileage of 40 miles per gallon or better on the highway.

I confess I have an ulterior motive talking up all of these gas-sipping cars. If more Americans drive fuel-efficient cars, less global warming pollution goes into the air.  The more electric vehicle and hybrid electric technologies penetrate the market, the less expensive they will be and the more people will buy.  I want to see low-pollution electric and hybrid cars become a bigger part of the overall market. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I am happy to see you save some money in the process, too.

Franz Litz is the Executive Director of the Pace Energy and Climate Center and Professor of Law at Pace Law School.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors, and do not reflect the views of this station or its management

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