Cal­i­for­nia’s car love weak­ens as petrol strad­dles $1 a litre

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - News -

ACED with surg­ing petrol prices, a grow­ing num­ber of car-crazy Cal­i­for­ni­ans are turn­ing from petrol guz­zlers, some­times to hy­brids, and avoid­ing the road in a state known for traf­fic jams and scenic routes. Like many Amer­i­cans, Jorge Mon­tijo and his wife once had two cars in their Los An­ge­les garage. But with petrol now be­tween $US3.80 and and $US4.30 a US gal­lon ($A0.92cents and $A1.05 a litre) — four times the cost a few years ago— the en­vi­ron­men­tally-con­scious cou­ple re­cently sold those and re­placed them with one hy­brid car in Fe­bru­ary.

In ad­di­tion to fuel costs, the pair had to worry about pay­ing for park­ing and car in­sur­ance. ‘‘ Frankly, gas prices are ridicu­lous. I re­mem­ber pay­ing $US1 dol­lar not so long ago. It’s four times that right now. I don’t even know how peo­ple with large cars are cop­ing,’’ Mon­tijo, a television and film sound ed­i­tor, said.

Mon­tijo now uses light rail to go to work while his wife drives to her job as a school teacher. They use the car in the evenings and week­ends, but have cut go­ing out to parks, restau­rants or con­certs.

‘‘ We are sav­ing at least a cou­ple hun­dred dol­lars a month,’’ he said. ‘‘ Since we’ve re­duced the im­pact of gas prices in our reg­u­lar ev­ery­day lives, we aren’t hold­ing back from buy­ing other things we’d nor­mally buy.’’

Melvin Cortez, 34, spends $US378 dol­lars a month in petrol driv­ing from home in Long Beach to his job at a school in La Puente, a Los An­ge­les sub­urb.

‘‘ My life has been altered fur­ther since gas prices are in­creas­ing. I now have to work longer hours to make ex­tra money,’’ he said. ‘‘ In ad­di­tion, I also spend a lit­tle less on my­self when I shop and I go out a lit­tle bit less too,’’ he said, voic­ing a con­cern of many Amer­i­cans also wor­ried about the ris­ing costs of food and ba­sic ser­vices.

‘‘ Now, I’d rather go to the gym dur­ing that time so I can burn calo­ries in­stead of spend­ing money at (bar) happy hours, or burn­ing gas dur­ing traf­fic time.’’

Car sales­men re­port a drop in sales of vans and eight-cylin­der ve­hi­cles. ‘‘ Un­til two years ago we were sell­ing be­tween 300 and 350 ve­hi­cles a month, now it’s 200 to 250,’’ said Roger Cowan, of the Com­mu­nity Chevro­let dealer in Bur­bank.

Sales of smaller, four- and six-cylin­der cars have risen while sales of sport-util­ity ve­hi­cles and trucks have dropped by 25-35 per cent, Cowan says. ‘‘ I wouldn’t say peo­ple are sell­ing us their SUVs, but they’re not buy­ing as many SUVs and trucks as they were, say, two years ago, or even a year ago.’’

In­ter­est in hy­brids is likely linked to eco­nomics rather than the en­vi­ron­ment, Cowan says. ‘‘ The celebri­ties do it be­cause it keeps their names in the news, but the av­er­age Joe will buy one be­cause it saves money on gas.’’ AFP

Cul­ture shock: Tues­day in San Fran­cisco, and Shell reg­u­lar un­leaded is $US3.99.9 a US gal­lon (3.8 litres)

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