Ok, everybody’s heard of the precipitous rise of gas (benzina) or diesel (gasolio or…diesel) prices in Europe, especially in Italy. A lot of the price is in road taxes, of course, but that doesn’t make the price at the pumps any easier to take.
After pornography, attitudes about fuel prices are quite revealing; we bitch and moan about either, and understand neither. We talk of the “miracle of the market” and then want the government to do something about the market prices.
I’m going to give it to you straight: the free market works in amazing ways if you let it. I’m also going to tell you that I don’t feel the pinch in gas prices at all when I’m in Italy.
How can this be? Do people give me free gas because I’m a travel writer? I wish they did, but nah.
Let’s just look at the facts here. A current gallon of diesel fuel in Italy is about 6.375 Euros per gallon. That’s about $8.52 per gallon, over twice what gas costs in the good ‘ol US of A. I always lease a diesel car when I’m in Italy because the fuel is (slightly) cheaper and the gas mileage is usually higher with a diesel car, so that’s why I’m giving you those prices.
Just for fun, to further break the price down, the price of the fuel excluding taxes is 5.27 Euros per gallon, or $7.02 a gallon.
Ok, then, so why doesn’t this extremely high price make me worry?
Because the car I’m leasing this year gets 69 miles to the gallon of diesel fuel. Some, in fact, report a number of 83. The car is the 4th generation Renault Clio. It generates 90 hp, more than enough to get you by.
So I pay twice as much for fuel and I have a car that gets twice the gas mileage. A wash! Besides, there’s ample public transportation if I need it. Some taxes do very nice things for the public good.
So here’s the thing. No matter how high you think the gas is, Americans are way more concerned about cup holders in cars than fuel economy. Yes, it’s true. Only recently has economy made the top ten list for car choice criteria. Cup holders rule. Gotta put that big gulp somewhere!
But you see if you really care about gas mileage, car companies would be forced to make more efficient cars. That’s what’s happened in Europe. Alfa Romeo and Porsche have made pocket rockets that get over 80 mpg. But, like our physiques, we like big, fat, inefficient cars because of the unfounded belief that they are safer.
So, the price of gas in the US has not hit a point where people stop driving. If it did, the industry would scramble to right itself and make more efficient cars.
Trust the market. Not because it’s perfect, but because there’s little else worth putting your trust in these days.
How to get information on Gas and Diesel Prices in Italy and the rest of Europe
Europe’s Energy Portal has great info on prices and transportation taxes normalized to the Euro if the country isn’t using it.
Drive Alive: Fuel prices in Europe has a more condensed version of less-current prices.
Even if I’m staying in Italy, I find it much better to lease a car through the unique French Buy Back Lease program. I get a new car, great insurance, and I don’t have to fill the thing before returning it—all for nearly the price of a beat up rental car someone’s smoked in. See: Leasing a Car on Your Vacation.