What a temptress cheaper gas is

A motorist pumps gasoline into his car at a Shell in San Rafael, Calif.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: With carmakers already nervous about the future, today's oil news might have them wondering if they should hit the brakes on all those plans they have for fuel efficient cars. This morning, the Energy Department reported crude inventories were up. But the increase was a million barrels short of what was expected, and gasoline stockpiles actually fell.

C'mon, now, America, admit it. It's just you and me. Are lower prices at the pump luring you back to your old habits? Here's our senior business correspondent Bob Moon.


Bob Moon: When oil started plunging, a research executive at GM said his worst nightmare was prices falling to $65 a barrel oil. He worried aloud that Americans might not downsize if gasoline tipped below $3.50 a gallon.

Well, average pump price are now far below that. And Tom Kloza of the Oil Price Information Service sees signs at least some of us are backsliding.

Tom Kloza: It could be a little bit of a sugar rush, where the consumer goes back to essentially some bad behavior, some behavior that, in the long run, isn't going to help.

Already, U.S. pickup demand is back on the rise, after collapsing earlier this year. Their sales share is nearly what it was before oil prices hit their high-end tipping point. Kloza says, so much for the buyers being changed forever.

Kloza: They should not get lulled into a false sense of security in thinking that high prices are not around the corner.

But oil economist Jim Williams believes even truck buyers are still watching fuel economy.

Jim Williams: I think everybody that buys a vehicle right now is really thinking, 'What's the mileage going to be?' and 'Could it go up again?' I don't think Hummer sales are going to skyrocket.

Oil researcher Tom Kloza says prices will go up again, and there's no way of knowing how long the current slump will last. And it's now, he says, the country needs leadership that won't allow Americans to backslide again.

Kloza: If we start to emerge from the economic recession and find that oil prices are going higher, it'll be like sort of catching a second round of pneumonia after recovery.

Kloza says that's something all Americans can prevent -- if they can resist those lower pump prices.

In Los Angeles, I'm Bob Moon for Marketplace.

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.

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