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Published: Tuesday, 4/23/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Lima makes Top 10 in green car interest

Surprise ranking tied to Web searches

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

If someone asked you to put together a list of places where car buyers are most interested in hybrids, surely your list would include the likes of San Francisco, Portland, Ore., and ... Lima, Ohio, right?

No?

Well, that’s what the annual Cars.com list looked like this year. In honor of Earth Day, the automotive research and classifieds Web site analyzed search data and compiled a list of cities with the most environmentally conscious car shoppers.

And it turned out Lima’s shoppers were as green as a lima bean.

“We’ve been doing this list for several years now, and every year there’s typically one outlier that you wouldn’t expect to see,” said Joe Wiesenfelder, executive editor of Cars.com.

This year, it was Lima. The city that’s home to about 38,000 people, an Abrams tank plant, and the well that started the northwest Ohio oil boom in the late 1800s came in No. 8 on the top 10 list.

Unsurprisingly, the West Coast dominated Cars.com’s list, with eco-crazy California taking four of the top five spots. San Francisco was first, followed by Monterey, Calif., San Diego, Portland, Ore., and Eureka, Calif.

Mr. Wiesenfelder admits it’s a little difficult to explain how Lima ranked so high, but he doesn’t completely dismiss the finding.

“It’s a lot of searches,” he said. “It probably reflects a disparity between supply and demand. There’s a lot of other factors that are hard to tell. We trust the data.”

It’s possible, he said, that people in Lima who are interested in hybrids don’t have a lot of local inventory to check out, so they do their searching online. It also could be that hybrids are simply becoming more mainstream. Where hybrids used to predominately be their own specific model, like the Toyota Prius, the technology is now more frequently available on what one might call more traditional cars. There are hybrid Ford Fusions and Escapes, for example. And some hybrids are beginning to return high fuel economy numbers on the highway instead of just in city driving.

But whatever the reason, people in Lima were searching for them last year.

“Obviously there’s interest there,” he said.

That’s not totally surprising to Joe Shaw, general sales manager at Lima Auto Mall, a General Motors dealership on the city’s north side.

“We do a lot of [Chevrolet] Volts, both pre-owned and new, ” he said of the plug-in hybrid. “We’re awaiting the Cadillac ELR, and that’s going to be a great car. It’s gorgeous. It’s absolutely gorgeous.”

Mr. Shaw did say that many of the Volt sales are to out-of-towners through their certified preowned program, but he said there are local folks who are interested in hybrid and green technology. And that technology has become far more ubiquitous, even if not in what would traditionally be called a hybrid. For example, the Chevy Malibu Eco is a so-called mild hybrid that uses a 15-horsepower electric motor to assist the traditional gas engine.

“We have a lot of people asking about it. You’ve got a strong educational community, you’ve got a strong engineering community here,” he said. “They’re concerned about green initiatives. You’ve got Rhodes State, OSU-Lima, University of Northwestern Ohio.”

The latter, he said, has been doing work with propane-powered vehicles.

Hybrids are still a tiny fraction of the new car market in the United States, making up about 3 percent last year, though it has been growing.

Mr. Wiesenfelder doesn’t give any projection of where the hybrid market may ultimately go, though he does see a continued market for fuel-efficient vehicles.

“Our advice is if you want an efficient car, go look at the bottom line: the mileage and what you pay for it, and also how quickly it accelerates. It’s not just if it says ‘hybrid' on the side. It’s an issue of what you pay.”

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



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