WASHINGTON -- Energy policy has taken a back seat to controversies about emails and old videotape in the presidential campaign, but few issues mean more to the auto industry.
Low gasoline prices have led to a boom in light-truck sales and caused demand for passenger cars and hybrids to plummet. The mix of cars and trucks is a key factor in whether the Obama administration's aim to boost the corporate average fuel economy rules to more than 50 mpg will ultimately achieve its environmental goals.
Already, surging light-truck sales have caused regulators to lower their projected fleet average mpg in 2025 from 54.5 mpg to closer to 51 mpg. The rules are undergoing a required midterm evaluation to determine whether they should be amended.
But the election outcome may do little to sway prices at the pump, which provides some stability for automakers planning their vehicle portfolios. In a 2012 poll of about 50 U.S. economists, each one agreed that changes in gas prices were due to market factors, not economic or energy policies.
And for a while at least it appears gasoline will remain cheap. There's simply too much oil on the market. The U.S. Energy Information Administration, a research arm of the U.S. Department of Energy, forecasts gasoline prices will average $2.12 per gallon this year before seeing a small increase to a $2.26 per gallon in 2017.
Sean Hill, an economist at the Energy Information Administration, says record domestic oil production and an overall glut in global supplies have insulated oil markets from price shocks. Three to four years ago, even brief supply interruptions would have had an immediate impact on prices. But the huge reserves of crude and refined products, including gasoline, create a buffer against price swings from individual events or policy changes, he said.
"It's safe to say that things are looking fairly stable for the foreseeable future," Hill said.