Hybrid demand mostly solid in Cowichan as electric cars eyed
Cowichan's steadily going green by weaning itself from gasoline vehicles, as seen by local sales of various hybrids.
And that curve could continue as higher-efficiency hybrids — blending gas and electric power — plus fully-electric vehicles — come onstream, car dealers and local leaders indicated.
Valley sales figures for most hybrids were a moving targets, but Metro Toyota's general manager, Sean Hebden, was proud Toyota's popular Prius has become a sort of gold standard since hitting the market in 2002.
"We also have the Camry and the Highlander and three versions of Prius — it shows our dedication to the environment and cost ownership.
The Prius C — starting at around $21,600 — is rated at a whopping 81miles per gallon of gas in city driving, and 71 mpg on the highway, noted Hebden.
Toyota's Prius V sedan starts at $27,600, compared to the first 2002 Prius stickered at about $31,600.
Price drops through mass manufacturing have also seen hybrids launched by Hyundai, GM, Ford, Honda, and others.
"We have lots of commuters here, and people like the idea of the lower cost of driving; they spend a bit more for the hybrid, but they make it up in the cost of ownership, Hebden said of eco-conscious Cowichan."
That spelled a spike in Metro's demand for the Prius.
"You could go to Victoria and back for a month on a tank of gas. There's a half-dozen people now waiting for hybrids to arrive — the Prius C in particular."
Hybrid customers such as Joe Wahlla, owner of Duncan Taxi, are happy about hybrids offering quiet electric power until around 60 kilometres per hour, when a gas-sipping engine kicks in.
"We have one hybrid but I plan to buy four or five more.
"They run clean, have less oil changes and maintenance, and the brakes last 100,000 kilometres," he said of Duncan's Taxi's 2008 Prius.
"We save more than 60 per cent on fuel. They're very cheap on gas and the taxi business can't survive long on gas cars."
Wahlla aims to change his whole 15-vehicle fleet to hybrids within two years after toting hybrid economy here, and at Garden City Cabs in Richmond.
Locals mayors are also high on hybrids, plus other inexpensive rides.
"Prius cabs are the biggest endorsements," said North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure. "They wouldn't buy them if they didn't make huge financial sense."
"We got one of first Honda Civic hybrids for bylaw enforcement and commissionaires," said Duncan Mayor Phil Kent.
"We attempted to get a hybrid for our organics recycling, but unfortunately the technology wasn't quite there."
Both councils aim to ground greenhouse-gas emissions, and may buy electric vehicles later.
Chevy's Volt could be Cowichan's first electric car, though few hybrids were available at Peter Baljet's Chevrolet-Pontiac-Buick-GMC dealership, sales manager Dan Easton explained.
Easton said some hybrids, such as the Chevy Malibu, are being phased out, while Baljet offers the 2012 Sierra 1500 crew-cab 4x4 pick-up as a specialty order costing about $48,000.
It gets about 27 mpg in the city, and around 33 mpg on the highway.
The hiccup with hybrids, Easton explained "is you're not in hybrid mode when you're on the highway. Hybrid (energy savings) is more of a big-city thing."
Baljet noted hybrids on highways don't get much better mileage than their non-hybrid counterpart.
Easton expected Baljet's first Volt (about $40,000) by fall, while his boss cited sluggish hybrid sales in models such as the Malibu.
"It's not a big seller," Baljet said of the Malibu hybrid started in 2009.
"One-in-seven Malibus is a hybrid — and one in 150 of our pickups is a hybrid.
"People want to be green but not everyone can afford it. You have to put lots of miles on a hybrid to benefit from it," he said.
"Some people buy them to say they're green; governments tout green so they can get votes."
Mayor Lefebure simply loves his 2007 Prius.
"It's one of the lowest cost-maintenance vehicles there is — something ridiculous like four cents per 100 kilometre," he raved.
"We top 60-plus miles per gallon."
That value coaxed his council to adopt a bang-for-vehicle-buck policy.
"Before about five years ago, staff took the lowest bid on a fleet vehicle, but we went to a policy to consider savings for better mileage, cost and life expectancy.
"We have a Honda hybrid and some other fuel-efficient cars," said Volt-curious Lefebure.
"Hybrids and other very-low gas consumption vehicles will be a better and better deal as gas prices go up."
That's why Ken Evans Ford sells its Fusion hybrid, explained general manager Bernadette Scudder.
"Our only real hybrid is the mid-size Fusion. There's been quite a bit of interest in them because they have such great performance on the highway (52 mpg) and in the city (61 mpg)," she said of the Fusion fetching about $37,000.
She sees an electric Fusion arriving in two years.
"Ford has created lots of eco-boost vehicles — they give you the performance of a larger engine in a more eco-friendly vehicle."
But Discovery Honda boss John Horgan said even his non-hybrid Civics and other vehicles boast big gas mileage.
"Our 2012 Civic gets better gas mileage than the 2011 hybrid: about 60-plus mpg.
"We don't sell a lot of hybrids, but lots of Civics — we sold 17 Civics last month (March)."
Civics cost between $17,000 and $26,000, with hybrids about $5,000 more than a regular model, Horgan explained of the low-pollution rides.
Cumulative sales of hybrids in the U.S. since 1999 reached 2,157,723 units through December 2011.
Sales were led by the Toyota Prius with 1,091,564 units sold, representing a 50.6% market share.
The top-ten selling hybrids in 2011 were the Prius (136,463 units), Hyundai Sonata Hybrid (19,672 units), Honda Insight (15,549 units), Lexus CT 200h (14,381 units), Honda CR-Z (11,330 units), Ford Fusion Hybrid (11,286 units), Lexus RX400h/450h (10,723 units), Ford Escape Hybrid (10,089 units), Toyota Camry Hybrid (9,241 units), and Lincoln MKZ Hybrid (5,739 units). — Source: 2011 and 2012 HybridCars.com, and figures Alternative Fuels and Advanced Vehicle Data Center (U.S. DoE).