High gas prices boost hybrid sales

High gas prices boost hybrid sales

By Susan Salisbury Palm Beach Post Staff Writer Updated: 10:20 p.m. Thursday, April 14, 2011 Posted: 9:19 p.m. Thursday, April 14, 2011

Gasoline prices spiked 8 cents a gallon in the past seven days, reaching an average of $3.88 a gallon Thursday in Palm Beach County. And two reports out this week indicate that motorists are rethinking car purchases because of the rising fuel prices – but we’re not yet driving any less. The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that prices at the pump will be 40 percent higher during the warm-weather driving season than last year, but still expects fuel consumption to be up this summer. The National Automotive Dealers Association’s first-quarter report shows hybrid sales up 42 percent over last year. When Valerie Valdes was ready to trade in her two-door 2003 Honda Civic for a four-door vehicle, she knew she didn’t want to sacrifice fuel efficiency.

“The Civic got 28 to 30 miles per gallon. I did not want to give up the good gas consumption,” said Valdes, 28, a Miami-Dade County real estate appraiser. After shopping around, Valdes drove 80 miles to purchase a Toyota Prius for $23,900 from Earl Stewart Toyota in Lake Park. She’s happy to be driving her new red car with a gasoline engine and an electric motor; it gets around 48 miles per gallon. Earl Stewart, president of the dealership, said fuel efficiency is at the top of most car buyers’ lists. The earthquake and tsunami in Japan last month also created some panic buying, he said, because Priuses are made there. With 88 sales, March was a near-record month for Priuses at Earl Stewart Toyota . In a typical month, Stewart’s dealership sells about 35. Barry Bowman, new-car sales manager at Palm Beach Toyota in suburban West Palm Beach, said he sold six Priuses last weekend and had only two left. Last year, the dealership had as many as 30 at a time in stock. “This year, with the spike in gas prices, we started to see an increase in hybrid sales,” Bowman said. Some buyers are snapping up cheaper models such as the Corolla, which goes for about $18,000, instead of the Prius, which averages $26,000. That $8,000 difference will put a lot of gas in the tank – even at these prices. The sales mix is changing, Bowman said, with sales of larger cars such as the Avalon decreasing. Myril Shaw, vice president of operations for buying site Carwoo.com in Burlingame, Calif., noted that demand since January “has gone up 300 percent for the top four hybrids and the top five regular gas-fueled fuel-efficient vehicles. Prices have gone up by 30 percent, except for the Ford Fiesta, which has dropped 15 percent.” The most fuel-efficient hybrids are the Prius, Lexus CT200h, Honda Insight and Honda Civic Hybrid, according to Carwoo. The most fuel-efficient gas-powered cars are the Hyundai Elantra, Chevrolet Cruze Eco, Toyota Yaris, Ford Fiesta and Mazda2. Shaw advises that high prices and decreased availability may continue to drive up the price of fuel-efficient cars. Buyers should figure out whether they drive enough to make the fuel savings worth the higher sticker price. Great deals are available on cars with somewhat lower mile-per-gallon ratings, he said. Despite the rising gas prices, the Energy Information Administration predicted this week that Americans’ gasoline consumption will increase by a half-percent this summer – 9.29 million barrels a day during the driving season, which runs from April 1 to Sept. 30. With gas prices volatile because of continued unrest in Libya and other countries, it’s difficult to make predictions, said Jessica Brady, AAA Auto Club South spokeswoman. “It is hard to say what prices will be even two weeks from now,” she said. “Overall, don’t worry about paying $5 a gallon when we have not even hit that $4 average.” ~ susan_salisbury@pbpost.com Source: Source: National Automotive Dealers Association Source: U.S. Energy Administration Ford Fusion Toyota Prius 42.5% HYBRID car SALES 28.5% TOTAL car SALES How much do gas prices affect our driving? 14A Camry 76,821 68,595 22/33 $19,820 Corolla/Matrix 76,675 63,740 26/34 $15,600 Altima 69,551 59,483 23/31 $20,270 Accord 66,195 65,579 23/34 $21,180 Fusion 65,023 51,411 23/33 $19,820 Starting price Car 2011 2010 MPG 25.3% 35.8% Small cars ON GAS THIS YEAR THE AVERAGE FAMILY WILL SPEND AN EXTRA $825 Large cars Top 5 cars sold through March Change in car sales volume, first quarter of 2011: u.s.: $3.81 Average PRICE of a GALLON of gas in Palm Beach County Thursday $3.88 Dec. 2 $2.96

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