Hybrids: No.1 Item on Many Consumers List

By: Anthony Fontanelle

The automotive industry is bombarded with financial crises. One of which is the rising gasoline prices. And in times like this, one would think purchasing cars would be the last thing consumers would do. But that is exactly what they are doing. As a fact, most consumers' list has hybrids as the first item.

Kevin Volk, the general manager at Bob Moore Saturn, said that hybrid sales have increased in the past week. "People are really trying to come in and get out of their gas guzzlers," he said. "During Memorial Day, we were in a position where we had to go out of our market in search of hybrids."

Volk said that sales for the fuel-friendlier vehicles have grown 25 percent in the last month, an increase he attributes to the fact that people have been paying as much as 41 cents more for a gallon of gasoline than they were a month ago.

Paul Taylor, the spokesman for the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), said that hybrid car sales are up 86 percent nationally as compared to this time last year. "People do take a greater interest in hybrids when the gas prices increase," Taylor said.

Mike Fowler attributes hybrid sales increase to the number three. "Three dollars a gallon seems to be that magical number," said Fowler, the chief executive officer of Fowler Toyota in Norman. "Once you hit $3, people start really getting concerned; it seems like people start paying closer attention."

Astra's may not be the deciding factor. Although driving a hybrid may save consumers money in the long-run, getting into one quickly may be more expensive than anticipated. Taylor said that it takes about four years for consumers to recoup the price of a hybrid in fuel savings.

Mike Wicker, the general manager of Joe Cooper Ford, said that most customers have done the math and know when a hybrid is the right investment for them. The increase of hybrid sales has increased the number of hybrid cars Joe Cooper Ford receives from the factory. Its inventory of hybrids is larger, doubled over the last year, Wicker said. The days of selling one or two hybrids a month are over, Wicker added. "Now they are sold before we even get them."

Megan Vance Ochs, the general manger of John Vance Auto Group, said that consumers are opting for General Motors vehicles with active fuel management, which allows the engine to turn off half the cylinders under light-load conditions.

"These are really better solutions for this part of the country," Vance Ochs said. She said that hybrids, while they are capable of saving on fuel, are better suited for stop and go driving under 25 miles per hour. "We are too spread out for that," she said of the region's layout. Cars that can take either gas or ethanol also have become popular buys during the recent gas price increases, Vance Ochs said. "The manufacturers are coming out with some good solutions," she said.