- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 11, 2005

Gasoline prices hovering above $3 per gallon are driving some Washington-area motorists away from gas-hogging sport utility vehicles and toward fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles, which are powered by a combination of electricity and gasoline.

At Koons Arlington Toyota, some consumers are putting a $1,000 deposit on Toyota Priuses without seeing them, said Tache De La Roche, a salesman and electrical engineer.

“In the past two or three weeks, when the price of fuel went up, we have seen double or three times the amount of demand,” Mr. De La Roche said.

Toyota Prius, the best-selling hybrid vehicle, averages 60 miles per gallon in the city and 45 miles per gallon on the highway, where more fuel and less electricity is used. They cost $22,000 to $27,000.

“They’re always in high demand because of their fuel economy and fuel efficiency,” Mr. De La Roche said.

Koons’ Prius shipments for September, October and half of November already have deposits on them. Koons receives 12 to 14 per month, he said.

“A year ago, people would hear they need a $1,000 deposit and they’d say they had to think about it. Now they hear about the $1,000 deposit and say, ‘Sure, no problem,’” Mr. De La Roche said.

The Honda Insight was the first hybrid model available in 2000. From 2000 to 2004, the years for which the latest figures are available, nearly 200,000 hybrids were registered in the United States, according to R.L. Polk & Co., a Southfield, Mich., automotive industry analyst.

Honda’s hybrid models — the Civic, which costs about $20,000, the $30,000 Accord and the $21,000 Insight — have been selling well at Brown’s Arlington Honda on Lee Highway.

“The Civic is sold out. It’s usually sold out before it comes in. … Whatever we had since the first of September, when gas prices soared … two of them sold that same day,” said salesman Sheriff Ahmed.

Mr. Ahmed estimates that demand rose 30 percent since the beginning of the summer. The dealership typically receives seven or eight inquiries a day about hybrid vehicles.

Sales of SUVs, at the opposite end of the fuel-economy spectrum, are declining nationwide.

Ford Escape sales are down 6 percent to date compared with last year. Sales of the Explorer and Expedition models are down 20 percent.

Chevrolet’s SUV sales also were down. Sales of the Tahoe dipped 9 percent and the Suburban fell 16 percent.

D.C. dealerships, however, report that sales have been steady.

At Curtis Chevrolet in Northwest, representatives have received more questions about fuel mileage on SUVs but continue to sell them, said a salesman who declined to be named.

“People ask about it, but most people who come in for [SUVs] already know about the mileage,” he said.

Chevrolet’s Tahoe and Suburban get 15 miles per gallon in the city and 19 on highways.

Sales of SUVs at Bob Peck Chevrolet in Arlington have risen, likely because of General Motors Corp.’s employee-pricing incentive, sales manager KC Shanker said.

“People say they’d rather not go to the restaurant a couple times to eat than cut down on the car,” Mr. Shanker said. “They have families that cannot fit into the small car.”

“The SUV buyer … is established financially. It doesn’t really matter to them,” he said. “They’re looking for comfort, not looking to save money.”

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