Fuel-efficient vehicles hot in Rochester

Rochester Toyota general manager Mike Enke discusses some of the features of the Prius hybrid Monday at the dealership.

Demand for fuel-efficient vehicles, including hybrids, is climbing again as fuel prices approach $4 a gallon, according to Rochester car dealers.

"People respond to pain, and if the pain is in the wallet they do something about it," said Rochester Toyota General Manager Mike Enke.

Car-makers are approaching the demand in several ways, including with expanded offerings of hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and all-electric vehicles, and by accelerating progress on gas-mileage targets.

Hyundai, for example, is promoting its 2011 Sonata hybrid, but it's also touting the overall fuel efficiency of its fleet. In January, Hyundai surpassed its 2015 fuel-efficiency target , and it now has four car models that get 40 miles per gallon on the highway.

So as for the rise in gas prices, "The timing, for lots of reasons, is perfect for our product portfolio," said Jeff Schaefer, sales manager and part owner of Adamson Hyundai in Rochester.


He would, however, like to get some Sonata hybrids on his lot soon, as many people are asking about them.

At Lupient Nissan in Rochester, demand for cars that get gas mileage in the mid-30s or better has been good, said Blake Kober, assistant general manager.

He's also been getting inquiries about Nissan's new Altima hybrid.

"We'll see the demand for it, and when it gets to $4 a gallon, we'll really see it," he said.

Nissan's new all-electric car, the LEAF, is creating a buzz around the nation, with its family-friendly size and range of up to 100 miles per charge.

However, "We're eight months from seeing a LEAF in the Midwest," Kober said.

Toyota is expanding its Prius line, adding two models this year and two more next year. Among the newcomers is a plug-in hybrid, which runs on electricity alone until the battery runs out; then its gasoline engine kicks in.

The Prius has been built since 1999, and is rated at 51 miles per gallon in city driving and 48 on the highway.


The waiting list for a Prius at Rochester Toyota is longer than usual because of gas prices and because of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

"The timing's not so good, obviously," Enke said about the disaster in Japan.

A criticism of hybrids has been that they cost more to own and that their higher sticker price isn't offset by savings at the pump. But a 2008 study by Los Angeles-based determined that hybrids have become a good buy when factoring not only fuel costs, but also costs of financing, insurance, repairs, maintenance and depreciation.

"The math works in your favor pretty quickly," Enke said.

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