Mar 1, 2023 - Economy

Gas is cheaper this year — but that has drawbacks for electric cars

Gas prices in the U.S.
Data: GasBuddy. Note: Price as of the 1st of each month; Chart: Axios Visuals

U.S. drivers spent an average of about $3.40 for every gallon of gas in February, per GasBuddy data. That's down 6% year over year, but up 2% from January.

The big picture: Cheaper gas is good news for American consumers, especially commuters.

Yes, but: Lower prices may disincentivize drivers from switching to more efficient cars, going electric, or embracing public transit — all of which can have big environmental benefits.

Why it matters: More than three-quarters of American commuters drive to and from work, meaning they're particularly sensitive to the ebbs and flows of prices at the pump — especially as other basic goods also get more expensive.

Context: Gas prices are also a political football, rightfully so or not.

  • When they're high, many Americans tend to blame whoever's sitting in the Oval Office — even though, as Axios' Andrew Freedman has reported, the president lacks significant control over the cost of commodities priced on global markets, oil included.

Driving the news: Crude oil prices have fallen over the past year, leading to cheaper automotive gas.

  • A barrel of West Texas Intermediate crude — a common industry benchmark — costs around $76 as of late February, down from about $122 in June 2022.
  • Oil prices spiked last year amid uncertainty over Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the economic sanctions against Russia — a major oil producer — that followed.
  • While the fighting drags on, oil markets have largely stabilized, as CNN reports.

Zoom in: San Francisco has among the country's highest average gas prices, at $4.76 per gallon last month. (Taxes, regulations, and snags with local refining operations can sometimes lead to higher prices across California.)

  • Houston drivers are enjoying some of the cheapest prices nationwide, at just $2.93/gallon.

Reality check: As Axios' Joann Muller recently found, charging up an EV isn't always significantly cheaper than filling a tank with gasoline — especially on road trips.

  • Electric cars aren't perfectly clean, either. Mining for the requisite materials can damage local ecosystems, while EVs' environmental benefit is lessened if they're charged with "dirty power" from, say, a coal plant.
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