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6/20/2004

Hybrids a growing success

By Paula Aven Gladych
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — The demand for hybrid cars in Longmont, like in much of the nation, is dampened only by the vehicles’ lack of availability.

Brian Stapp of Longmont Toyota said he has a nine-month waiting list for the Toyota Prius.

“There’s very very high demand. ... Right now, the wait is pretty long,” Stapp said.

One reason is that the company can’t mass-produce its hybrid technology, so the supply is not keeping up with demand, Stapp said. Another is that 2004 is the first year for the Toyota Prius, which Stapp said “makes it more desirable.”

Longmont Toyota sells two to five of the new hybrids a month.

The Prius gets its best gas mileage in “stop-and-go traffic,” Stapp explained, and people who commute long distances on the highway will not benefit as much in gas mileage savings, he added.

The Prius averages 51 miles per gallon on the highway and 61 miles per gallon in the city, he said. The car costs between $20,000 and $26,000.

Honda is having similar success with its Civic Hybrid.

Elizabeth Frame, a sales consultant at Frontier Honda in Longmont, said the dealership sells a half dozen of the cars a month.

She hopes that Honda will step up production of the popular cars so Frontier can double its monthly sales of the vehicle in 2005.

“Since the price of gas is starting to climb, suddenly we are seeing a huge surge in people looking at hybrid cars,” she said. “There are a lot more people trading in their Excursions and big things that get eight to 10 miles per gallon because it isn’t fun at the pump anymore.”

The Honda Civic Hybrid gets between 46 and 51 miles per gallon and costs between $20,000 and $21,000, Frame said. The Insight, a compact hybrid that starts around $19,000, is rated at about 65 miles per gallon.

“The Insight is a two-seater and doesn’t fill a lot of bills for people,” Frame said. “You can hardly put groceries in them, but people like them as commuter cars.”

Families are more attracted to the four-door Civic model, she said.

Both Honda and Toyota plan to unveil new hybrid models in 2005. Toyota will turn its Highlander SUV into a hybrid, and Honda will add a V6 Accord hybrid in the new year.

Baine Kerr bought a Honda Insight — Honda’s first foray into the hybrid car market — the first year it came out, in 2000.

A small two-seater that runs on both gasoline and electricity, the Insight is “cool looking and fun to drive,” Kerr said.

“The fuel economy looked really interesting, and the environmental cleanliness was a great attraction,” he said, adding that since he does a lot of in-town driving in Boulder and Denver, he doesn’t “maximize the fuel economy. My lifetime fuel economy is 52.5 miles per gallon.”

His only road trip since he bought the car was to San Antonio, Texas.

“I got within less than 200 miles of San Antonio, about 760 miles, on one 10-gallon tank of gas,” Kerr said.

The Boulder attorney added that he has to fill up so rarely that he often forgets which side of the car the gas cap is on.

The Insight, like the Civic Hybrid, has a battery pack backup. When the cars stop at a stoplight, the engine shuts off. The moment the driver takes his foot of the brake or clutch, the engine turns on again, with an extra boost from the battery pack.

The act of braking recharges the battery.

Karen Hunter, who bought a Honda Civic Hybrid in October, said she and her husband worried about wearing the car’s battery down by driving into the mountains.

But after driving from Longmont to Estes Park, over Trail Ridge Road and back to town through Golden, she found that her car got 50.3 miles per gallon on that tank and its battery level never dipped. The car averages 47 miles per gallon in town, she said.

Hunter said she has always been interested in science and “also very concerned about our environment,” so she decided to practice what she preached by trying to consume less.

“I’ll never buy a regular car again,” she said. “This is such an economical way to go. I
really hope they take off.”

Stapp said the reason the Prius has a waiting list and the Honda Civic Hybrid does not is that the Prius is a “true hybrid.”

Unlike the Civic, which uses electricity to give the gasoline engine a boost, the Prius can run on either electricity, gasoline or both at the same time, he said.

“I think a lot of people want to try and have the newest technology and help the environment,” Stapp said.

Paula Aven Gladych can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 211, or by e-mail at pavengladych@times-call.com.