Gas Prices Redux

As gas prices inched closer to the $3.00 barrier broken last September, I thought it would be a good idea to refresh some old charts and create a new chart that would shed light on how gas prices affect consumer confidence and interest in more efficient modes of transportation.

In this first chart, I’ve juxtaposed mean retail gas prices across the U.S. (obtained from the U.S Department of Energy) with searches for “Gas Prices” across Hitwise’s sample of 10MM Internet users. The interesting thing about this chart is that the September’s breach of the $3.00/gallon mark appears to be the tripping factor for the massive spike in searches on “gas prices”. Even though we ventured into the $2.90s in the last few weeks, we experienced only a moderate increase in “gas price” searches.

US Retail Gas Prices versus searches for gas prices

Contrast that with the following chart, which compares the same gas price data with searches for “hybrid” and “SUV.” It appears that interest in gas-saving hybrid cars has a different threshold then searches on “gas prices,” which may be a proxy for consumer concern over rising pump costs. We see a very dramatic spike in “hybrid” searches at the $2.90 level. Also note the continued negative correlation between searches for “SUV” and “hybrid” as would be expected.

US Retail Gas Prices versus Searches for Hybrid and SUV

Finally, as we get close to summertime, I thought it would be a good opportunity to examine the effect of rising gas prices on visits to hotel chain sites that are frequented by road travelers. As you can see from the chart below, the majority of visits to the motel category occur during the summer months, yet as gas prices increase over the last several weeks, there is a noticeable decline in visits to the category.

US Retail Gas Prices versus Visits to Roadside Motel Sites