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American Car Culture May be Down, But it's Not Out...Yet

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An iconic era in American history is gone. And all because it costs too much to enjoy.

Photo Credit: Google.com

Remember what it was like to go cruisin’? You know, that time when you and your friends would hop in a vehicle (preferably a convertible) and just drive. Just about every town or city in America had a designated street that everyone just called “the strip” which was packed with cars cruising every Friday and Saturday night.

Popular spring and summer break destinations had kids connecting with others as they “cruised the strip” and yes, some would “drag the strip” or street race way before “Fast & Furious” was a common phrase.

Photo Credit: Google.com

Sometimes though, you just needed to clear your head so you’d go for “a drive.” Maybe you were looking for a cheap fun date with your significant other so you’d just drive out to the country to have a picnic. You did much more talking on a drive than you ever do today watching a movie on Netflix.

Maybe you wanted to take in God’s creations so you’d go cruising along a beach, a mountain road, or prairie highway. During the holidays lots of families cruised neighborhoods looking at Halloween decorations and Christmas lights. My family spent many Sunday afternoons cruising neighborhoods of the affluent to admire the fancy homes and construction. Some of the most memorable experiences I’ve had were from cross country drives during a vacation.

If it seems like I’m referring to this period of time a little bit nostalgically, with a romantic view of the past...well, that’s because I am. That period is gone and it’s something that I and many Americans miss. America was once known worldwide for our car culture, but that culture has steadily disappeared.

Why? Gas prices.

Some held on to a hope that one day fuel prices would come down and they could get back to their preferred motoring experiences, but by now, many of them have resigned their hope to the idea that this is the new norm. What’s really unfortunate is that the younger generation, often referred to as Millennials, are reading this and they can’t relate. They don’t have the same romantic, nostalgic feelings towards vehicles that inspired the Pixar movie, "Cars."

In the Pixar movie "Cars," a race car rediscovers what it means to just drive with the help of friends in Radiator Springs. (Photo Credit: IMDB.com)

Studies have been pouring in the past couple of years showing that Millennials, those in their 20s and younger, have very little interest in owning cars at all. Many have speculated the reason is they are more interested in the urban lifestyle, where walking, biking and public transportation is the norm. Or maybe they are just more involved with electronics and social media.

However, consider another reason. High fuel costs.

Regular gasoline in the United States first went over $2 a gallon in May 2004. Then in September 2005, we broke $3 a gallon for the first time and gas prices have mostly stayed above that ever since. A brand new driver who was 16-years-old in 2004 would only be 25 today, the top end age for the Millennials.

[sharequote align="center"]These kids never knew crusin’ because they couldn’t afford it.[/sharequote]

These kids never knew crusin’ because they couldn’t afford it. By late 2010, teenagers didn’t even look forward to getting a car anymore. Why should they? They couldn’t afford the fuel to go anywhere. Plus, they didn’t have money because jobs for youths have been lost in this economy, but that’s a different article, entirely.

A new study from the Highway Loss Data Institute supports this theory as they found that expense is the primary reason Millennials have lost interest in vehicles.

And it’s not just the experience of cruisin’ that Millennials are missing out on, but other gasoline related activities like riding four-wheelers or going boating. Just as many people used to cruise the strip, many Americans used to cruise the lakes and rivers in their ski boats or pontoons. However, last year, Bombardier, the manufacturer of SEA DOO, announced that they were discontinuing their boat division due to lack of global demand.

According to most estimates, crude oil comprises of anywhere from 70-to-80 percent of gasoline costs. If you look at a chart with crude oil prices compared with gasoline prices you can see that gasoline prices definitely follow right along crude oil prices. 

Graph Courtesy of Author.

So the question is how do we reduce the price of oil in order to bring back car culture in America? Although commodity trading is a factor, its influence pales compared to the Economics 101 principle of supply and demand. As undeveloped countries have become more developed, demand throughout the world has increased. Meanwhile, turmoil in the Middle East, South America and even in the United States caused a hit to the supply side.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC, control the vast majority of the supply side of the equation and they recently met to decide what to do about crude oil prices in the near future.

Although they decided to keep oil production at the same levels for now, they did something that surprised many people. OPEC admitted that the United States may have more influence on crude pricing in the very near future, primarily, due to advances in drilling and shale exploration.

For years opponents of drilling have proclaimed that ‘drill baby drill’ won’t work because the United State couldn’t make a big enough impact to affect pricing. Yet, it appears we already are, and that is just due to new developments with drilling. Imagine if we had the Keystone XL Pipeline years ago and public property drilling back to where it was pre-2010?

Will Millennials ever experience the thrill and freedom that comes from the open road? Not with a President Obama/Harry Reid-run government. When looking at a chart showing the gas prices, you can see a sharp increase starting in 2007 that eventually took us over $4 a gallon briefly and have kept us above $3 a gallon for a record breaking time period. That year also happened to be the year that Harry Reid became Senate Majority Leader and Nancy Pelosi became Speaker of the House.

President Obama was the first President in history to average over $3 a gallon gasoline for his four-year term. And it’s no surprise considering his comments in 2008: When talking about America’s need to move in a different direction with energy, Obama was then asked if the high gas prices at the time would help reduce Americans demand on oil. He responded: “I think that I would have preferred a gradual adjustment.”

Stephen Chu, who later became Obama’s Energy Secretary, had said earlier that year, “Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe.”

We have seen this administration spend (and lose) billions of dollars on green energy companies, while ignoring efforts to reduce the pricing of our current energy sources. Instead of concentrating on forcing energy changes, expanding welfare services through food stamps and health care, and redistribution of wealth through higher minimum wages, this administration could have focused on reducing the cost of goods and services by lowering transportation costs through expanded oil production, and in turn could have also preserved the great American car culture.

But that doesn’t seem to fit the agenda.

TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.

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