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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Autos

Automakers’ dilemma

Rising fuel prices concerning you?  Be glad you are not an automobile manufacturer.

As you reckon with higher personal transportation costs, automakers face a resulting market uncertainty.  The sudden changes in consumer attitudes driven by bloated fuel prices are difficult to predict and react to.

An upsurge in the price of gasoline can cause sales problems for manufacturers’ current product offerings as consumers seek more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Now, pickup trucks and SUVs are leading vehicle lines for U.S. automakers.  But if fuel rises continue this summer, plants that build those leading products may be closed or retooled to build smaller vehicles — history foreshadows it.

Such is a past consequence of when gasoline jumped from three dollars to over four dollars per gallon.  But retooling factories for a major change in products produced is a drastic reaction.  I would not wish to be in the shoes of anyone making the decisions for auto factories now.

What if gas retreats to under three dollars?  Will consumers want bigger vehicles again?  Will superconductor advances improve energy storage (batteries) and reduce range-anxiety of electric cars and trucks?  That’s just a sample of the many fuel-related questions nagging automobile CEOs, with billions of dollars at stake pending the answers.

Diesel-powered vehicles have an advantage in fuel efficiency over gas-powered counterparts, and diesel was once much cheaper than gasoline.  But now, several factors have caused diesel prices to rise equal to or greater than the price of gas. First, global demand for diesel fuel is steadily rising.  It is common for over half of all vehicles on the roads in many European regions to be diesel-powered.  Also, for reasons unknown to me, the Federal excise tax is six cents higher per gallon in the U.S for diesel than it is for gasoline.  Finally, the U.S. has mandated a transition to a lower-suphur diesel fuel, raising production and distribution costs.

Alas, much to the consternation of drivers and makers of vehicles, it seems that oil companies have an undisclosed mantra when it comes to raising prices.  They do it “because they can.”

The ascension of fuel prices will contribute to the proliferation of bicycles, motorcycles and scooters on our roadways too. As a result, car and truck drivers will see more two wheelers of all types to watch out for.  Bicycle shop owners have told me that business is up, and I have read that there are waiting lists for scooter buyers.  Auto and truck operators, please be vigilant, as you become “tuned in” to acknowledging these conveyances.  There are definitely more out and about right now and many of their operators are novices.

New riders, please step up your defensive driving efforts.  It’s best to assume that you are invisible, so leave an extra margin for error.  It does little good to have the right-of-way when a four wheeled vehicle decides to take it away from you.  I’ve had countless episodes of oncoming drivers making left turns in front of my motorcycle as I travel straight down the roadway.  They make eye contact, but fail to yield right-of-way.  It is believed that many drivers, while looking for cars and trucks, see two-wheelers but don’t mentally register them. For a two-wheel rider, it’s quite scary when you have a near miss — or a near hit, as I call it.

An old adage from the motorcycling community is worthy plea: Share the road.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at precisiondriving@spokesman.com.