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Published: Thursday, 11/9/2006

High-demand Prius hybrid on some area dealers' lots

BY MARY-BETH McLAUGHLIN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Troy Maxwell estimates that the Sandusky dealership where he works has a 14-day supply of Priuses. Troy Maxwell estimates that the Sandusky dealership where he works has a 14-day supply of Priuses.
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Drivers seeking the Prius, the gas-electric hybrid vehicle from Toyota Motor Corp., now have the best chance of finding it on a dealership lot since it was introduced three years ago.

At least in some parts of the country.

A check with Toyota dealerships in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan found availability mixed.

Troy Maxwell, general sales manager at Kasper Toyota Scion in Sandusky, estimated that dealership has a 14-day supply.

"This is the first time since they came out that I've had them," he said.

On the other hand, Dave Wittenmyer, general manager at Jim White Toyota Scion in Sylvania Township, said: "We can't get any more than we've had in the past. We have none for sale at this present time."

He added: "Our region is not kissed like some of the others."

Priuses now sit on dealer lots an average of 17 days, compared with five or six days a couple of months ago, the manufacturer said, because the company has started a second shift at its assembly plant in Tsutsumi, Japan.

The 2006 models cost about $22,000.

"It's actually kind of nice that they're available, because people can actually come in and drive them and see the vehicle," said Mr. Maxwell in Sandusky. "They were buying them blindly before."

That probably wouldn't have made much difference to John Titus, of Toledo, who said he and his wife wanted the vehicle regardless of whether they saw it in person. "We liked the design, for one thing, and the outstanding mileage, for another," said Mr. Titus, who has owned his Prius for two years.

Cedrick Jehany, a salesman at Rouen Toyota Scion of Maumee, said he does have "a couple" of Priuses in stock.

"That's different from the past, when we had a waiting list of six months," he said. The dealer receives five or six a month, up from two or three.

Alex Thayer, general manager of Ralph Thayer Automotive, in Monroe, said his allocation is up 30 to 40 percent, although he averages just one a month. His waiting list is six to eight months.

Paul Taylor, chief economist at the National Automobile Dealers Association, said buyers have been willing to wait.

"We've seen these initial hybrids sold principally to early adopters of technology who are willing to pay extra to drive the latest technology and do the right thing on saving fuel," he said.

Hybrid vehicle sales nationwide through October are 211,000 units, up 23 percent from the same period a year ago, he said. Ohio and Michigan are not among the top 10 states in hybrid sales, which is why local dealers don't get as many of the vehicles.

Toyota has upped production at the same time that Prius sales have slowed. Area dealers speculated that decline is because of lower gas prices, reduction of a tax credit, and increased competition from other hybrids, including Honda's Civic.

Loren Anderson, sales manager for Brown Honda in Sylvania Township, said he never has more than three or four hybrid Civics on his lot. "I'll take as many as I can get my hands on," he said.

He did acknowledge, however, that interest in hybrid vehicles is "almost a direct reflection of gas prices."

The Prius has a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rating of 60 miles per gallon in city driving.

Mr. Wittenmyer, of the Jim White dealership, said he plans to display a number of hybrids on his lot once the dealership's expansion is finished.

"If we don't have one here, it's a lot harder to sell."

Contact Mary-Beth McLaughlin at

mmclaughlin@theblade.com

or 419-724-6199.



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