The F-250 Index

With gas prices once again reaching inflation-adjusted prices not seen since the 1970s, many people want to know if the cost of gasoline is actually affecting the way most people decide how to spend their money.
Having driven more eight thousand long-distance miles between the northeast, midwest, and southeast over the past 5 months, I’ve frequently observed that some of the fastest-moving vehicles on the road are unladen Ford F250 pickups. Now, the F-250 is an everyman kind of truck. It’s no accident that George W. Bush drives one to pick up foreign dignitaries visiting his Texas ranch. These are the people driving consumer spending behavior in this country; for proof, go to any Home Depot in the southeast on a Saturday morning.

On a good day, these capable, powerful trucks can achieve around 17mpg on the highway. Not when they’re going 90, though. The F-250 is shaped roughly like a big brick, and as you push them through the air faster, you start to burn exponentially more gas.
In theory, those lousy aerodynamics should make their drivers extra-sensitive to changes in the gas price. So in the spirit of the Economist magazine’s Big Mac Index, I’d like to propose an F-250 index. Just take a statistically valid sampling of the number of F-250s on the highway, and the speed that they’re traveling. If it stays the same, you could conclude that energy prices aren’t really affecting how people behave. If either number declines, there’s a good chance that people are feeling the pinch.