We have just returned from 18 days in de country of the SUV, the Hummer and the strecthed limo, in which gas prices in the Savannah, GA area can be as low as $2.24 per gallon (€ 0.46 per liter). While these prices seem low to us Europeans, they are incredibly high according to US standards. Especially the rapid speed by which the prices have gone up leads to many mumblings and complaints.
Despite this sharp increase in fuel prices, I had not expected to see much difference in the way that the average American goes about their daily business. Cars really are essential over there; outside the metropolitan area, public transport is of an extremely poor quality and shops, stores and malls have been designed with the expectation that everyone will go there by car.
To my surprise, after doing a lot of driving in our little Ford Focus rent-a-car, I did get the impression that the number of large gas guzzling cars, such as SUVs, MPVs and other over-sized cars on the road appears to have declined. This impression seems to be corroborated by sales figures.
Second, I noticed a sharp increase in the number of cars using a hybrid engine, most notably the Toyota Prius. I spotted several Priusus in Savannah (GA), Hilton Head (SC) and all over Long Island (NY).
These two observations, combined with simple things such as sensored traffic lights (as opposed to timed traffic lights), an increase in red-light and speed cameras along major roads, etc., seems to indicate that even in the United States, Bigger is no longer always Better.