Hybrid cars, diesel trucks increasingly popular, dealers say

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Published: July 23,2007

Hybrid cars are no longer a rare novelty. Increasing numbers of the gas-saving hybrids are showing up on Mississippi highways.

“We sell them as fast as we get them in,” said Donna Ransdell, Internet sales manager, Patty Peck Honda, Ridgeland. “There is a lot of interest in the hybrids. We have the Civic Hybrid. Honda also makes an Accord Hybrid, and I’m sold out of those at this time. We pretty much stay sold out of the hybrid market. There is a big demand for it.”

Ransdell said while some people are primarily interested in fuel economy, others are buying to promote the environmentally-friendly aspects of hybrids.

“We get a mix of people looking for pure fuel economy and those who are wanting to give back and do their part to protect the environment,” she said. “Honda is one of the greenest automobile companies out there. Honda is producing more types of hybrid cars because of the demand, and in the future we’ll see some other types of hybrids that are in the pipeline. They are making more and looking at other alternative fuel-efficient resources, as well.”

Take a spin

Concerned that hybrids won’t have the power you need? Ransdell said when people have doubts, they simply need to go for a test drive.

“That dismisses all the reservations they have,” Ransdell said. “It has plenty of power when you punch it. Sometimes people just don’t understand how the battery assists the engine. The battery assists the engine. The engine doesn’t assist the battery. You always have all the power you need all the time. The battery doesn’t run down.”

Some people like hybrids because they are quieter. Some are so quiet one can hardly tell they are running. Another advantage is that hybrids have good resale value.

“Hybrids keep their resale value better than regular cars,” Ransdell said. “They are in high demand. People search all over for hybrids, new or used.”

George Jones, general sales manager, Vicksburg Honda, also reported strong demand for hybrid cars.

“We sell quite a few of them here,” Jones said. “At this point, we have only one left on the ground. The new is wearing off at this point, but a lot of intelligent buyers out there still recognize the benefit of the hybrids. You do get a tax credit for them. Also, the difference in the gas mileage itself is a considerable savings. The used models are very hard to come by because people keep them. So there is always going to be a strong demand for the used vehicles, as well. Customer satisfaction is very strong with them.”

Targeting SUV drivers

Allen Toyota in Gulfport recently had a news conference to introduce the new 2008 Highlander Hybrid. Toyota Prius, which has the highest number of sales for a hybrid vehicle, has been joined by the Camry Hybrid and the new Highland SUV that gets mileage in the upper 30s.

SUVs make up nearly half of the vehicles on the road today, so having a SUV available in a hybrid targets a key segment of the buying public.

“The Highlander gets comparable gas mileage to a small car,” said Robert Bozant, sales manager, Allen Toyota. “Right now it is as hot as a firecracker. The SUV is what most families want right now. The Camry has been very, very popular, as well. The Camry is the number-one selling sedan on the market, and now having it in a hybrid, all that does it make it that much better.”

Bozant said the Camry averages 40 to 45 miles per gallon (mpg) while the Prius can get up to 60 mpg.

Positive customer feedback

Feedback from customers on the hybrids has been good.

“They are very happy with the vehicle,” Bozant said. “The hybrid engine switches between electric and gas. They are happy with the pick up of the vehicle, the way it runs and the quietness. The Prius has been on the market for several years and the others are modeled on that. Prius has done so well that people aren’t afraid to go out and buy the Camry or Highlander with the same hybrid engine.”

Bozant predicts increasing demand for hybrids.

“They are going to take over a lot of the market,” Bozant said. “They can’t get them built quick enough. As soon as we get them, we sell them.”

Sy Brazeal, general sales manager, Carlock Toyota of Tupelo, agreed about the popularity of hybrids.

“The Prius, once they hit the lot they are pretty much sold,” Brazeal said. “Hybrid Highlanders are a little slower. They aren’t moving as quick as the Prius. Since the Toyota plant came to Mississippi, we have been having a lot of traffic because of that. It has kind of opened people’s eyes. They want to show their support for the Toyota investment in Mississippi.”

Brazeal said the hybrids are particularly popular with traveling customer — people who drive a lot.

“I had a guy a couple days ago who drives to Texas and back a lot, so the Prius is a perfect vehicle for him,” he said.

Ford also has a hybrid now in the Escape model.

“Demand is good for the Ford Escape,” said Jeff New, sales manager, Belk Ford Mercury, Oxford. “Your everyday buyer isn’t going to buy it. Someone who is concerned about the environment, they will buy it. But if someone is just looking to save money, they won’t buy it. It has to be someone who really cares.”

‘Technology getting better’

New said people often take a look at the hybrids, but then end up buying “gas burners.” But he expects to see acceptance increase as technology improves.

“The technology is getting better all the time,” New said. “In five years, you will see a lot more acceptance. Right now it is hard to justify the cost just to save a little at the pump.”

New doesn’t think hybrids live up to the hype. He said they actually give off more hydrocarbons than regular cars if you consider the lifecycle costs of the electric motor and batteries.

“People buying them don’t know that,” New said. “Five years from now, it will actually be a bargain. It will be good for the Earth and for saving some money. Now it is just someone who thinks they are doing good. It is just like making fuel out of corn. It takes too much gas to make the ethanol to really be good for the environment.”

Diesel alternative

Another alternative that saves gas and results in other benefits such as greater longevity than gasoline motors is diesel. Diesel cars and trucks are increasingly popular both due to better technology and diesel prices currently lower than gasoline.

It used to be diesels were very loud and gave off black clouds of smoke.

“But you can’t tell diesel from gas motors now when they stop at the stoplight,” said Tommy Cook, sales associate, Kossmans Inc., Cleveland, which sells the popular GMC diesel trucks. “Diesel sales are absolutely great. The new General Motors diesel gets better mileage than in previous years. They are very quiet. There is no more smoke because of low-sulfur diesel, the improved design of engines and also a better design on the exhaust system.”

Cook said approximately 80% of his company’s diesel truck sales are agricultural related. Farmers are interested in an engine that lasts on average 50% longer than gas motors, and greater performance for carrying heavy loads.

“The people who have always owned diesels, it is hard to get them into a gas truck,” Cook said. “With the payload capacity they have, the torque, the mileage on them and the price of diesel fuel, diesels are very popular. Most people who buy a diesel the first time come back for a diesel just about every time. The crew cab is real popular because most people who own diesels have people who work and travel with them. A lot of the lawn care businesses have gone to crew cabs in part because can carry crew with them.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

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