Other than certain Arabian countries where the oil is from, we here in the United States of America enjoy some of the cheapest gasoline prices in the world (tell it to a British bloke next time you complain about your gasoline being over over 3 dollars, or rather, a San Franciscan). It is in a large part due to the unwillingness of the Government to tax it at the rate Europeans are used to (imagine all the money the US can earn). But markets are markets after all and a couple of weeks ago the price of oil (re)crossed the $100 dollar mark, hence gas prices have gone up lately.
Economist predicts that it will only get worst throughout the year. Of course I am unhappy about the gas price (even though it is aforementioned, relatively cheap). Even though I drive a small and absurdly fuel efficient car (for a non hybrid anyways), those extra dollars at the pump adds up over the year (just like cell phone bills - compound your monthly bill into a yearly and be shocked much you are forking over). I even switch from the better Chevron gas to the cheapest (in price) around: Costco! Thank heavens I share membership with my father and I also do credit banking with American Express. Even driving a little out of my way just to get to a Costco is worth it.
On the other side of the coin I kind of wish gas prices continue to go up? I think America is in need of a shock with regards to the price paid for oil. As long as it is still on par with a gallon of milk, no one here will bat an eyelash and evaluate the alternatives. It takes almost alarm level for Americans to act (being pro active definitely not in the vocabulary).
Remember a couple of years ago when gas was way over one hundred a barrel and gas prices in the US was threatening the four dollar mark? That was when people sort of woke up. Instead of buying large gas guzzlers, people started looking for smaller and more fuel efficient cars. Instead of driving that giant truck and never haul anything, people bought automobiles that actually FIT their lifestyle. Automakers, even though it is partially marketing spin, vowed to research and develop fuel efficient technologies so that the masses will not be encumbered with the high gas cost (some of the fruits of that labor is slowing but surely trickling down into the automotive market today with hybrids and diesels).
I think America is really for a European like renaissance in terms of the automobile market. Everybody will only buy the car they need (which most of the time means small), and car makers will make cars that are as fuel efficient as possible (before the gas price scare the motto was as big as possible). It is just a shame that it will take another gas price scare (and probably permanent) for this change to come. This is not to say that high performance or large vehicles won't exist. Those types of cars will still exist for those who can not only afford them, but also put gasoline in them. I would think twice about getting a 2 ton truck just to daily drive to and from work if it takes over one hundred dollars just to fill it up with gas.
To go further, I am a big fan of electric cars, which like it or not is clearly the future, whether be it by batteries or hydrogen. People need to remember that the internal combustion engine is highly inefficient - only one out of the four strokes provides the motivation power. With electricity powering the cars it can be as efficient as needed because technology in terms of power delivery and power production can be managed. Meaning this does not preclude high performance and fast electric cars (the Tesla Roadster anyone?). Again, I think a gas price crisis will scare the government and automakers to push for electric cars on a faster tract than it is now.
But for the foreseeable future, I think gas prices will stay at a elevated level, and automakers for the time being will try to build cars that are as light and fuel efficient as possible. Technology is available, and I think automakers should leverage as much of it as possible instead of staying with the status quo just because it "sells". The reason Apple stays ahead of the growth curve amongst consumer electronic and PC makers is because they are always thinking of what is next and using the latest and greatest technology. Carmakers should do the same.
Cannot say I am not happy about getting 32mpg average in my corolla. Guess I will be keeping it for awhile. Faster cars can wait until I have money for gas.