Fuel Demand Shrinking

U.S. consumers are reacting to higher gasoline prices with their wallets, according to a new Harris Poll showing half of those surveyed are cutting gasoline consumption. But perhaps more alarming for convenience store and petroleum retailers is that consumers are reining back overall spending amid higher prices at the pump.

The poll showed that about half of current car owners surveyed say they have cut spending on weekend trips, recreation and vacations. About 72 percent said they reduced weekend travel, 71 percent cut recreation spending and 53 percent reduced vacation spending.

Respondents also said they took measures to cut their general consumption, which could bode poorly for the U.S. economy. Some 46 percent of respondents said they have cut spending on products and services because of higher gasoline prices, citing movies, clothing and food purchases.

Consumers also plan to buy more fuel-efficient cars in the future, the survey showed. Higher gasoline prices will "refocus consumer attention on purchasing vehicles" with higher fuel efficiency, 79 percent of the 1,246 adult respondents said. Most agreed that higher gasoline prices will increase interest in high-mileage, hybrid gas-electric cars.

A growing number of both Democrats and Republicans in Congress have signaled support for tightening fuel efficiency standards for gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles and pick-up trucks. U.S. automakers oppose raising the current standards of 27.5 miles per gallon for cars and 20.7 miles per gallon for light trucks, which have not changed since the 1980s.

The Harris poll was taken between June 7 and June 17, before a steep decline in U.S. retail gasoline prices. Pump prices fell 10 percent ahead of this week's Fourth of July holiday, according to last week's price survey by the American Automobile Association.

The national average price of gasoline fell 17 cents from record highs in May to $1.55 a gallon, or 11 cents below last year, according to the AAA survey of 60,000 service stations.
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