A recovering economy and cheaper prices at the pump have boosted U.S. gasoline demand in recent months, following five years of decline, a change that some experts say could continue into 2014.
The economic slowdown and expensive gasoline had forced motorists to drive less or buy smaller, more efficient cars since 2007, but consumption in the second half of this year has been back on the rise.
People are driving further, tempted back behind the wheel by a 40-cent per gallon fall in gasoline prices since September. Pump prices on Thursday's Thanksgiving holiday were the lowest in three years, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said last week.
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From July to October, demand outstripped monthly government forecasts. Sales by refiners and other suppliers have shown year-on-year increases in six of the first nine months of 2013, the most monthly gains since 2010.
The increase cannot be found in all regions - gasoline demand in the East Coast continues to slump - but analysts say that in most of the nation there are signs of life.
"The slowdown in demand coincided with the slowdown in the global economy, and now that we are moving the other way we are going to see demand pick up," said Mark Vitner, senior economist at Wells Fargo, who expects demand to rise in 2014.
Much stands in the way of a sustained boost in gasoline consumption. Fuel efficiency continues to slice away at demand, and an aging population is expected to drive less in the long run.
Gasoline demand had been steadily declining since 2007 as motorists drove less and car fuel efficiency improved. The U.S. government still forecasts a 0.4 percent fall in gasoline demand in 2014.
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But demand is expected to rise 0.5 percent this year, after declining by 0.8 percent to 10.5 million barrels per day in 2012, according to the EIA, the statistical arm of the Department of Energy.