This column is coming to Defining Ideas from the Regina Palace, located in Stresa, Italy, a small town outside Milan, on Lake Maggiore. The ride from Milan to Stresa has its fair share of wonderful lake views, a topic which few people would care to hear me opine. But inside the Volkswagen of our Italian hostess, which took us on that stunning ride, was a small gas gizmo. To my surprise, that small-freestanding device relates to the policy error du jour of the Obama administration—its proposed stiffening of the long standing CAFE, or corporate average fuel economy, regulations.
The gizmo, I am told, was a direct and widespread private response to the high price of gasoline in the European Union, brought on by a combination of scarcity and high taxation. Essentially, that device contains an opening that is smaller than the ordinary nozzle that goes into the standard gas tank. It is inserted into the gas tank where it then hooks up with a natural gas container that is now built into more and more European cars. In the hinterlands, natural gas is a bestseller because it is about one-third of the cost of gasoline. But in the city, where its flammability is judged to create too large a risk, natural gas is not sold, so people have to shell out significant Euros, roughly eight dollars per gallon, to fill the tank. The moral of the story is that private firms and drivers find ways to reduce gasoline consumption as the price of the commodity moves upward.
The use of this fancy little device in Italy parallels the rise of hybrid cars in America. Hybrid cars can shift back and forth from gasoline to electricity as circumstances warrant. The combined system is perfect for cooling heels on Los Angeles freeways because of how it optimally powers down electricity when the zip of gasoline is not needed.
(photo credit: Kristin)