Gasoline-Electric Hybrid Demand Soars

Toyota already has 12,000 U.S. orders for the Highlander Hybrid representing a six-month backlog, while its Lexus division has has curtailed advertising for its new RX 400h hybrid to trim the order backlog that now stands at 9,000.

Published: 04-Jun-2005

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In March 2004, a year before Toyota Motor Corp. began assembling hybrid versions of its Highlander SUV, Vince Procopio secured a choice spot on the waiting list with a $200 deposit. His order assured him the second gas-electric Highlander delivered to his auto dealer.

Procopio grew tired of waiting and bought a secondhand Jaguar S-Type, but he held on to his Highlander order. Recently, he sold it for $499 on the eBay online marketplace.

"What gave me the idea was salesmen who told me, you can get a premium on it. They were so much in demand," said Procopio, a Troy, Mich., salesman.

The gas-electric cars may have started out as a fad six years ago, but they appear to have staying power in the market even though they cost several thousand dollars more than conventional gas-powered models.

Waiting lists are so long that many customers are paying extra just to move ahead in line. Others are paying full sticker price for a used hybrid — a practice rarely seen outside the trade of Ferraris and other super sports cars.

While automakers rely on cash rebates to prod sales, some car dealers are marking up the price of hybrids, or simply turning customers away.

Toyota already has 12,000 U.S. orders — a six-month backlog — for the hybrid Highlander sport utility vehicle, although the model will not hit showrooms until June.

The Japanese automaker has curtailed advertising for its new Lexus RX 400h hybrid to trim the order backlog. It now stands at 9,000.

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