Connecticut Car Dealers Struggling to Keep Up with Hybrid Car Demand

Record high gasoline prices are wreaking havoc on motorists' wallets and fueling sales of gas-and-electric hybrid cars.

Published: 01-Apr-2005

The average price of regular unleaded gasoline hit $2.17 a gallon Thursday in Connecticut, matching the previous all-time record set June 8, 2004. That’s up from $1.80 a year ago, according to the AAA Connecticut Motor Club.

The national average hit a record $2.16 Thursday, up from $1.75 a year ago.

The Greater New Haven average was $2.15 a gallon Thursday, up from $1.77 a year ago.

Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. and Ford Motor Co. each have hybrid models on the market, and area dealers say sales are growing rapidly.

Hybrid models vary slightly in how they work, but the end result is the same: better fuel efficiency through a mix of gasoline and electric power. The electric motor doesn’t require any extra effort; it recharges itself while the car is operating.

"It’s the way it’s going to be," said Mike Plummer, general manager of Executive Honda in Wallingford.

"(Hybrid technology) is going to be less of a big deal in the future."

That future might be nearer than people think. Chevrolet (owned by General Motors Corp.), Nissan Motor Co.

Ltd. and Lexus (Toyota’s luxury line) will all release hybrid sedans within the next two years. Lexus, Toyota and Mercury (a Ford brand), are gearing up to release hybrid SUVs this year, while Dodge (Daimler Chrysler) and General Motors plan to release hybrid trucks.

"There certainly will be a hybrid option for every car," said Brad Berman, editor and owner of the Web site, which details the technology and products on the market. "It will become mainstream."

The vehicles already appeal to environmentally conscious buyers, he said, and more drivers interested in fuel efficiency are starting to buy them.

Dealers say they are struggling to keep up with the demand.

Syed Sami, general manager of Colonial Toyota Inc. in Milford, said there is a waiting period of 30 to 45 days for customers who want to buy the Toyota Prius, named Motor Trend magazine’s Car of the Year in 2004.

That’s down from a wait of several months — Toyota recently started sending more cars to the region because of high demand, Sami said. He has sold between 20 and 25 of the models so far this year.

"The reason we don’t talk much about it is because we don’t have many to sell," he said.

Honda currently has the most models on the market, with the Insight, Civic and Accord. The Insight, a two-seater boasting 61 miles per gallon, has started to decline in popularity, while the Civic and Accord take off, Plummer said.

That’s because there is no physical difference between the hybrid and non-hybrid models of the Civic and Accord aside from a thin spoiler on the back, he said. Plummer said he’s sold between 10 and 15 hybrids per month, including all three models.

Even SUVs are starting to get a hybrid makeover. Ford introduced the Escape this year, boasting 36 miles per gallon. Though sales are lagging in the tri-state area, Connecticut seems to be doing well, said Vincent Tellitteri, general manager of Ford of Branford.

"Maybe our Connecticut customers are a bit more fuel conscious," he said.

The Honda Civic hybrid gets 48 gallons per mile, while its non-hybrid counterpart gets about 35 miles per gallon, based on city driving. The Civic hybrid gets 51 miles per gallon on highway driving.

While some hybrid models get fewer miles per gallon on the highway than in city driving, most get better mileage on the highway.

The electric component of the hybrid does several things. On the Civic, for example, it runs the car at a complete stop and adds power to the gasoline engine when driving uphill.

Prices vary, but hybrid models normally cost up to $2,000 more than non-hybrid models.

The city of New Haven jumped on the hybrid bandwagon earlier this week, as four aldermen proposed to give city residents who own a hybrid free street parking.

Some say the technology may serve as a transition to cars using hydrogen fuel cells, though that technology is still in its infancy.


Playing catch-up a decade late, the world's auto giants now find that they have to lease or buy technology from Toyota.

Spc. Jeffrey Hamme and Staff Sgt. Michelangelo Merksamer of HHC, 1/506th Infantry, point out features of the Hybrid Electric Humvee at the AUSA Annual Meeting earlier this month. The two Soldiers participated in a Military Utility Assessment of the prototype vehicle last month at Fort Campbell, Ky.

Ford's 'Hybrid Patrol,' a 10-city initiative this fall that aims to show hybrid drivers how to drive for best fuel economy. EV World photo of Bill and Lisa Hammond on way to first Ford Patrol event in Detroit during stop-over in Omaha.


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