Rising gas prices renew interest in fuel-efficient cars

March 8, 2011 3:35:31 PM PST
Last month, sales of the Toyota Prius saw a nearly 70-percent jump over the same time last year. Other hybrids like the Honda Civic have seen sales increases of more than 50 percent. Analysts say it's a signal that people are trying to avoid paying the high prices at the gas pump.

Gas prices have climbed for 21 straight days and on Tuesday drivers woke up to a gallon of gas costing a penny more than the day before.

"I don't see it getting any better. I only see it getting higher. It was time to get a new car and it made sense to get a hybrid," said Rachel Levelle.

Levelle and Antonio Amaya are trying to keep more pennies in their pockets by trading in their luxury SUV for a Toyota Prius. With their new car, a full tank of gas costs them $30 and they fill up every three weeks.

"I was driving a Lexus RX 300 and I was putting about $80 in gas every week in the car," said Levelle.

At Grossinger City Autoplex, hybrid cars are big business. They sold 16 Prius in the past three days and have also taken several orders for the Chevy Volt, an electric car which will not be sold in Chicago until later this year.

Already, there are dozens of charging stations for electric cars around Chicago and plans to install many more.

With the price of gas hovering at $4 for a gallon of regular unleaded, manager Brian Weinberg says there's a renewed interest in customers who want cars that give them the most for their money.

"They still need to buy a car and they're going to a more economical gas mileage fuel efficient car," said Weinberg.

But the growing demand for hybrid cars can jack up the cost of the supply.

Joe Wiesenfelder with Cars.com says three years ago when gas prices were above $4 a gallon it was not unheard of for car dealerships to sell hybrids for 50 percent higher than the asking price. He says a good option at this point is getting an efficient gasoline powered car.

"Ironically when gas prices are high, that's when everyone says I've got to make the move. It's not the best time, partly because more efficient cars are under greater demand, their price goes up, whatever you own, SUV, trade-in value goes down," said Wiesenfelder.

On Wednesday, the Illinois Commerce Commission will convene a panel to discuss how plug-in electric vehicles will affect the state's electric grid.