09/06/05 — Consumers are choosing fuel-efficient car models

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Consumers are choosing fuel-efficient car models

By Jim Meachen
Published in News on September 6, 2005 1:50 PM

Fuel-efficient cars are hot commodities on Wayne County dealer lots as gas prices escalate. Some models rated at more than 30 miles per gallon are selling out, new car dealers say.

Hybrids -- vehicles that use an electric motor in combination with a gas engine -- are on back order at Toyota of Goldsboro.

Owner Ben Rodriguez said this morning that the dealership is sold out of the Toyota Prius mid-sized hybrid sedan and the Highlander Hybrid sport utility vehicle. The Prius is rated at more than 50 miles per gallon and the Highlander at more than 30 miles per gallon.

The Prius is on back order, Rodriguez said. The waiting time is about a month.

Other fuel-efficient cars such as the compact Corolla are sold out. And the four-cylinder Camry, also rated at more than 30 miles to the gallon, is in short supply.

"Our truck sales are off, especially the V-8 trucks," Rodriguez said.

But traditional truck owners and people who simply want or need a big sport utility are still there, said Brad Stallard of Chevrolet Cadillac of Goldsboro.

"Last month, we sold 36 trucks," he said. Stallard said a lot of people who buy trucks realize high gas prices are temporary.

Stallard said General Motors perhaps has not done a good enough job advertising the gas mileage ratings of many of its cars.

"We've got a lot cars that will get 30 miles or more," he said.

For example, the new Chevrolet HHR utility wagon is rated at 30 miles per gallon.

Scott Johnson at Deacon Jones Ford said there are a lot of full-size pickup truck and big sport utility customers who are not ready to give up their vehicles.

"There's been talk of downsizing. And we've had people come in and look at smaller vehicles, but right now it's just talk," he said. "I just don't think we're at the point where someone who drives an Expedition is ready to get into something smaller."

Johnson said it was hard to tell if truck sales are off because Deacon Jones had one of its best sales months ever in July and inventory has been depleted.

"We had a great used car month in August," he added. But there was no sales trend, he said. Everything from small cars to big trucks sold well.

John Harris, sales manager at Frema Motors, said the dealership has many cars with good mileage ratings, and when gas prices go up their business picks up. Frema sells Mazda and Volkswagen products.

Their most fuel-efficient vehicles, the Volkswagen Jetta and Beetle diesels, are sold out. But Harris said they have several diesel-engine cars coming from New Jersey this week. The diesels are rated at more than 40 miles to the gallon.

"Anything that gets over 30 miles to the gallon is selling," he said. One of their best selling cars available on the Frema lot is the Mazda3, which gets 35 miles to the gallon.

He said customers are also asking for late-model used cars that are fuel-efficient.

Wayne Mitchell, sales manager at Goldsboro Honda, said the compact Civic and Civic hybrid are selling well. "We had our best sales month (in August) since we took over last November, and I think it was probably the best sales month ever for a Honda dealership here," Mitchell said.

Mitchell said the Goldsboro dealership is fortunate because it still has 40 2005 Civics on the lot with ratings of more than 30 miles to the gallon. He said a lot of dealerships in the area are down to just a handful of Civics.

He said anything with four cylinders is selling well.

"Our only slow seller has been the Pilot," he said. The Honda Pilot is a mid-sized sport utility with a six-cylinder engine.

While some models are sold out, there are still a considerable number of new high-mileage vehicles available in Wayne County.

Johnson said, for instance, that Deacon Jones has several Ford Escape hybrids on hand. The small sport utility is rated at more than 30 miles to the gallon.