What's your GPY?

That's gallons per year. Not MPG, miles per gallon.

The ultimate measure of how we respond to our new energy crisis is how much energy we consume, not how efficient we are at consuming it. This is important because we don't have much going for us when it comes to becoming energy efficient.

The biggest single reason? Gasoline has been, and remains, a minor cost of transportation. As a consequence, we have to spend a lot of money to save a little money.

According to the American Automobile Association's 2005 transportation cost study, for instance, the average total cost of owning a car was 51.6 cents a mile if you drove 15,000 miles a year. It would rise to 68.2 cents a mile if you reduced your driving to 10,000 miles a year. The same study showed that the cost of gasoline was only 8.2 cents a mile. So gasoline is only 16 percent of the cost of transportation for a 10,000 mile a year driver. It's only 12 percent of costs for a 15,000 mile a year driver.

Worse, if you own a low mpg vehicle, you've probably "paid" in advance for any improvement you could achieve. The Hummer2Prius ratio that I introduced this spring has declined with a vengeance in the last six months. The Kelley Blue Book wholesale value of a good condition Hummer 2 with 30,000 miles was $30,285 at the end of the quarter, down a whopping $5,115 since March, or 14.6 percent. The value of a 2003 Prius, on the other hand, had declined only $640 from $15,400 to $14,810.

  

The Hummer2/Prius Resale Ratio

Compares original MSRP for new vehicles followed by wholesale resale prices after original sale.

Vehicle

MSRP Jan. 2003

Jan. 2004

May 2004

Sept. 2004

Jan. 2005

Mar. 2005

Sept. 2005

2003 Hummer H2

$52,200

$41,600

$40,300

$38,000

$36,400

$35,400

$30,285

2003 Toyota Prius

$20,730

$16,100

$15,700

$15,550

$15,500

$15,450

$14,810

H/P Resale Ratio

2.52

2.58

2.57

2.44

2.35

2.29

2.04

Source: Kelley Blue Book
  

Alas, that probably understates the size of the hit low mpg car owners will eventually take. Six months ago Autotrader.com listed 1,007 model year 2003 Hummer 2s for sale.   Recently, the number listed had soared to 1,296. During the same period the number of 2003 Prius' offered declined from 187 to 98. There is a big supply of gas guzzlers and a big demand for gas sippers.

Detroit didn't take the money straight out of consumer pockets, but every dime, and then some, of "employee pricing" savings benefited new car buyers and came out of used car owners. Most are now further upside down on their loans. That means summer sales came at the expense of future sales because few owners will be in a position to buy anytime soon.

While gasoline is a minor part of our cost of transportation, it is growing compared to average grocery spending. According to the Food Marketing Institute, average weekly spending on groceries is now $ 92.50. Anyone with a long commute in a gas guzzler may now be spending as much on gasoline as on food. Talk about hard choices.

So what can we do?

In the Burns family we've done a little of everything. As reported in 2003, we traded a turbocharged New Beetle (22 mpg, premium gas) for a 2003 Prius (45 mpg, regular gas). I now work in an office at home most of the time, a 30 foot commute. My wife has retired so she is no longer driving all over Dallas six days a week. We drive the Prius whenever possible. We no longer leave the house to buy a pint of ice cream. We combine our trips as much as possible. And we try to reserve the Jeep for its primary purpose: Hauling stuff.

No rocket science. Just attention to details.

The result?

We've cut gasoline consumption from about 1,100 gallons a year to about 565 gallons: We're driving fewer miles and trying to do it in the most fuel efficient vehicle.

Could we do more?

You bet. Invest more and we could cut our gas consumption in half again.

Were there an inexpensive retrofit for the 2003 Prius, we could convert it to an overnight plug-in car, the double the mileage, and eliminate another 140 gallons. But there is no inexpensive retrofit.

Similarly, we could sell the Jeep and get on the waiting list for a Ford Escape Hybrid, spending at least $27,000 on the new car, plus sales tax and collision insurance, to save about 130 gallons.

We'll pass on that. It doesn't make sense.

On the web:

A Hummer of an economic indicator, Tuesday, April 25, 2005

AAA "Your 2005 Driving Costs"

Kelly Blue Book figures

Household vehicles energy consumption

Most recent household vehicle energy consumption report

Martin Feldstein on rationing