What you see on the roads is a window into the thinking of society. If my past few days are representative, not much has changed; SUV's are still cruising 5 and 10 over the posted limit, drivers of 4x4 pickups are still rushing up to slower traffic in 35 MPH zones and then braking to tailgate, and old GM cars are still peeling out of parking spots and rushing to get to the main road.
Despite regular gasoline around $2.50/gallon and premium 20 cents higher, people aren't even trading their lead feet for aluminum, let alone feathers. That's how seriously they treat high oil prices.
The public is in deep denial. How long this will continue is anybody's guess; I suspect that it will take bankruptcies and mortgage foreclosures as owners of big status trucks run out of credit before the idea really takes hold in the public consciousness. Until then the vast majority of people will do nothing, and pretend that nothing needs to be done.
On the day that things flip, it will finally be possible to sell solutions to the public. Unfortunately, very few people are going to make and stock fuel-saving products on the off chance that demand will materialize in time to keep their business solvent. Economic collapse in a host of places around the world could easily occur first, each one leading to sags in both oil and import prices and putting off the local reckoning for a while. Absent action by the government to create demand (as it has done for ethanol), fuel-saving products are a risky business until the day the crisis can no longer be denied.
In every crisis, there is opportunity. What kind of products could be rushed out in weeks or even days, and start making a difference right away? The people who sell them stand to make a lot of money if they are ready.
There are things we could do to respond to a fuel crisis very quickly. Here's a list of ideas off the top of my head:
- "Get the lead out" throttle springs. These would be installed at either the vehicle's throttle body or beneath the gas pedal and provide tactile feedback to discourage wasteful driving.
- Throttle restrictor plates: little pieces of stamped sheet metal sold with a pair of gaskets. 'Nuff said.
- Pickup cab-to-bed fairings. These could be blow-molded from sheet material in stock at plastics shops; add mounting hardware and you've got product.
- Wheel fairings for semi-trailers to direct air around those draggy rear axles.
- Inflatable boat-tail fairings for the square aft ends of the trailers themselves. These could mount to the doors using glue or heavy-duty double sided tape, and be inflated by exhaust gas or turbocharger bleed air. Deflated, they would allow the doors to fold back as normal.
- Inflatable half-round fairings for the front edges of the trailer, smoothing the airflow around the gap aft of the tractor's deflectors.
Combined with common-sense measures like slowing down on freeways, I suspect that a 20% cut in fuel consumption is possible for non-congested driving conditions. This would achieve a similar effect to a drop in fuel prices from $3.00 to $2.40; enough to take the edge off until more permanent fixes can be implemented.
Entrepreneurs, I put these ideas which are not already patented by someone else into the public domain. If you can turn any of them into a design and profit from it, more power to you.