Just a few months ago, demand had slowed for Toyota's Prius hybrid. Gasoline prices were relatively low and the Toyota lots were full of the futuristic model. Customers had their pick of color.
ABC News did a story back in February indicating that the Prius might have reached a saturation point. Toyota officials, naturally, argued that point. And it turns out they were right.
Demand for the Prius is back up, according to Jesse Toprak of Edmunds.com, a car-buyer Web site. Apparently, you can conclude that demand for the vehicle tracks along with the price of gasoline. As a gallon of gas rises north of three bucks, people begin thinking fondly of those hybrids again.
"I was watching the gas meter on my BMW go like this [up] every second of the day," said Prius customer Jonathan Keyes, "so I said, you know, Prius! I'm going to check it out.'"
Jim Press, chief of U.S. sales for Toyota, said Toyota is selling more Priuses now than it did last year. "It gets about twice the mileage of a regular car and about 20 percent of the emissions from a normal car and it does curtail our dependence on foreign oil," he said.
Toyota is bullish for a reason, especially now. "The No. 1 reason people will buy this vehicle," said Grossinger Toyota general manager Brian Weinberg, "is gas mileage."
"Toyota determined that they can bring in as many as 70,000 units in 2007 and perhaps sell every one of them," Toprak said.
And it's not just the Prius anymore. Toyota is also offering a hybrid version of the world's most popular car, the Camry. And it has a Highlander SUV hybrid in its showrooms too.
No, they don't get the mileage that window stickers used to show. The Environmental Protection Agency revised those figures for the Prius, for example, downward from 60 miles per gallon to about 40 mpg. But that's still pretty good at a time when it costs more to fill up your tank than to feed your family at a restaurant.
So are the hybrids a great deal at a time of these high pump prices. Not in every way. What Press doesn't dwell on is that Toyota marks up the price of these specialty models. As much as $5,000 to $7,000 over conventional cars. So it would take a motorist years and years of driving to make up the difference by spending less on every trip to the service station.
Says Toprak, "You might as well just get a 4-cylinder regular car for $16,000 or $17,000 and get a very similar gas mileage to those hybrids without having all those premiums.
"The truth is a lot of the non-hybrid vehicles like the subcompacts that are getting into the market place nowadays can offer almost as good gas mileague with much lower pricing," he said.
He was talking about models including the Honda Fit, Nissan Versa and Toyota Yaris. They can all do better than 30 mpg. So before you run out and buy a hybrid, it might be worth pausing to consider the math.