Can 1 Million Drivers Be Wrong?
It was back in 2008 when I first conceived of the Galculator™ — a mapping application that estimates fuel costs for car trips based on real time gas prices along a route. At the time US average gas prices had soared above $4.00 per gallon and the media was hyping it as a new era of Peak Oil — Oilmageddon they called it, and even back then during the height of the Peak Oil craze I got some skeptical looks from friends who questioned the value of building such an application.
Undaunted, I gathered some talented colleagues from AOL who commenced to build it and— after many weekends and late evenings — we quietly launched it in October 2008 on Cost2Drive.com. It was one of those rare experiences where the end product actually turned out better than envisioned, and to our delight people loved it and it generated a good amount of press coverage both in the blogosphere and in traditional media.
Energized by the reception, we continued to evolve the app by adding more years of vehicle data and integrating an airfare feed from Kayak so travelers could easily see if it’s cheaper to fly or drive to their destination — a feature that to this day remains one of the most popular in the app.
Then suddenly — a short three months later in December of that same year — it all fell apart. US gas prices plummeted to below $1.60 a gallon, and along with it traffic to our site. It appeared Oilmageddon was but a mirage, and we seriously considered pulling the plug on the Galculator. However we had built it to run operationally lean — and since so many people told us they loved the application and now depended on it — we decided instead to try and keep it up and running. Maybe gas prices would soar again and the audience would return.
Fast forward to 2016 and we’re glad we did. Despite the fact that average US gas prices never again eclipsed $4.00, traffic to Cost2Drive.com has steadily grown by nearly 50% each year since launch and just this past year — for the first time ever — over 1 million people planned car trips on Cost2Drive.
Perhaps even more startling is that gas prices have once again plummeted to sub $2 levels but despite this visits to Cost2Drive have continued growing, and in early 2016 growth has even accelerated. Could it be that consumer interest in the cost of driving is independent of fuel costs?
Therein lies the crux of our original hypothesis — that travelers care about driving costs just like they care about any other costs regardless of wild swings in fuel prices— and it’s not just fuel costs, it’s tolls, depreciation, insurance, etc. We heard this from users early on and consistently the most requested feature was a toll calculator.
Tolls had always been a part of our plan given that no single pan-american toll calculator existed, but the complexity of such an application was daunting. This is why we’re so excited to now offer toll cost calculations across any routes in the US and Canada through Tollsmart, our sister company that we formed last year that is focused wholly on tolls (and yes, you’ll soon see integrations between the two).
So how many people care about the cost of driving? We’re convinced just about anyone who drive cares about driving costs, but now we have solid evidence that it’s at least a million drivers each year, and if the start of 2016 is any indication it will be at least 2 million by the end of this year.
What Are They Driving?
So who are these budget-conscience consumers and what are they driving? The nifty thing about our Galculator is that it requires people to enter their vehicle information — year, make and model — along with where they are departing from and their destination. Based on this we’re able to discern interesting patterns when we dig through the data. For example, a few years ago we identified the Dodge Caravan as the top vehicle users of Cost2Drive were driving to Disney World based on over 10,000 routes that had Disney World entered as the destination (Google ‘dodge caravan disney world’ to view the post).
At that time we also were able to crown the Honda Civic as the most popular vehicle entered on Cost2Drive, and identified the average age of vehicles as 7.3 years and average trip distance a whopping 500 miles each way (not surprisingly the longer the trip the greater interest driving costs.)
I’ve always found it fascinating to dig through our data to uncover trends and patterns, so we’re excited to announce that we’ve analyzed the +1 million trips entered on Cost2Drive in 2015 will reveal the results in our next post. Will the Honda Civic retain the crown? Which car brands will lead the pack — and have any new upstarts emerged? Has the average age of vehicles changed and — if so — what may have caused it?
Of course what we really want to know is how many owners of the $3.5 million Bugatti Veyron were frugal enough to use the Galculator in 2015. Learn the answer to this and all of the above questions in our next post.
Jim Kovarik is the CEO and Cofounder of Tollsmart, the only app that calculates toll costs across all bridges, tunnels and toll roads in the US & Canada. He is also President and Cofounder of C2G, the company that operates the Cost2Drive fuel calculator website. You can find out more about Jim and his background by viewing his profile on LinkedIn.