Hybrid Cars Get Attention at Omaha Auto Show

"I hope our country gets a brain," show goer tells reporter

Published: 25-Jan-2004

Hybrid cars, which use both gas and electricity, generated a buzz Saturday at the Midlands International Auto Show 2004.

They are freakish novelties no more. People at the auto show walked around the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic hybrids, opened their doors, asked questions and climbed inside.

Many were clearly more than just curious. They're thinking about buying a hybrid.

Cathy Matras of Papillion said she was disappointed to walk around the Omaha Convention Center and see so many big, gas-swigging vehicles.

"I hope our country gets a brain," Matras said.

She said that when she buys a new car in two years, she will seriously consider a hybrid.

The auto show re-opens today at 10 a.m., and its four-day run concludes at 6 p.m. World Media Co., a subsidiary of the Omaha World-Herald Co., produces the show.

Tam Webb, event director, said that as many as 20,000 people were expected to attend Saturday. A half-hour after opening Saturday morning, long lines of people waited to enter.

"Sixty miles to the gallon," Jerry Johnson said with wonder as he and his 9-year-old daughter Alexandra looked over the Toyota hybrid. "That's amazing."

He said that when he replaces his Isuzu in a couple years, he'll think about a hybrid. Then he climbed in and sat behind the steering wheel of the Prius for a closer examination.

The gas mileage stands out. The Honda Civic hybrid gets 45 miles per gallon in the city, 51 on the highway. The Prius gets 60 miles per gallon in the city and 51 on the highway.

Ford plans to introduce a hybrid Escape in late summer, said Skip Nairne, a Ford customer-information manager at the show.

The technology for hybrids leads to somewhat higher prices. One of the 2004 gas-driven Civics at the auto show cost $15,850, compared with $20,140 for the hybrid.

Salesman Jeff Reeks said the hybrid had side airbags, and the gas-driven Civic with which it was compared did not. Those airbags would add several hundred dollars to the price of the gas-driven car.

The hybrid battery doesn't need to be recharged by the driver of either the Prius or the Civic. The technology is such that the battery is automatically recharged.

"There's no plugging this car in - ever," Reeks said.

Reeks said the Civic hybrid has been on sale for two years and is available on lots today.

Michael James, a Toyota representative, said the Prius went on sale in Japan in 1997 and in the United States in 2000.

James said there is currently a six-month wait to buy a Prius.



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