Video: As gas prices soar, waiting lists grow for hybrid cars

Kyle Alspach

Drivers are snapping up every available hybrid before the cars even hit the lots, local auto dealers say.

“For the past couple months, they’ve been that hot,” said Sam Atein, general sales manager at Copeland Toyota in Brockton.

Toyota’s signature hybrid, the Prius, has sold well at the dealership in recent years, thanks to its roughly 50 mile-per-gallon gas mileage rating.

But as gas has soared to record heights in the past few months, so has demand for the car. A Prius hasn’t made it to the lot for two months, Atein said. There is now a backlog of 15 pre-orders for the car, which sells for $22,000 to $28,000.

Customers who place an order Copeland Toyota must now wait up to three months to get the car.

And people who want to check out a Prius at the dealership are out of luck.

“We just don’t even have any to show,” Atein said.

It’s the same case at Silko Honda in Raynham, where interest in hybrids is four times what it was a year ago, said manager Adam Silverleib. Honda currently offers just one model, the Civic Hybrid.

“We don’t have any on the ground,” Silverleib said. “The vast majority of hybrids are spoken for. We’re 90 days out right now.”

At Saturn of Raynham, the Vue sport-utility hybrid is sold out for the year. And six people have already pre-ordered the 2009 model, which won’t arrive until early next year, said general manager Charlie Elchaak.

Carmakers have struggled to keep up with hybrid demand for years. A senior Toyota executive said last week that the company is unable to make enough electric batteries, which are a key component of the cars.

Nadine Monteiro of Brockton was one of the early hybrid buyers when she got a Prius in 2002, a year after it went on the U.S. market.

The 29-year-old estimates that she saves nearly $1,000 per year in gas. And she fills up so rarely, she said, that she has to put sticky notes on her steering wheel as a reminder to get gas.

“I don’t think I could ever go back to a different car,” Monteiro said. “You feel good doing something for environment, and you feel good when you go to the gas station.”

Hybrids save gas through using an electric motor, which recharges automatically. The Prius and some other hybrids also shut off the gas engine when the car comes to a complete stop.

Among the other unique features of the Prius: A special screen that tells the driver their gas mileage on a moment-by-moment basis.

“It really teaches you how to drive better,” Monteiro said.

Former Brockton mayor John Yunits is equally enthusiastic about his Prius.

Yunits said he bought the car four years ago, when gas was well below the current $4-per-gallon price. To buy the car at the time was out of the ordinary, he said.

“Now it’s crazy not to,” Yunits said.

Still, relatively few people in the region own hybrids. The local community with the most is Plymouth, with 127, according to the state Registry of Motor Vehicles.

Brockton has just 57 hybrids among its population of roughly 100,000. The town with the most, Easton, has 65 hybrids, while Stoughton has 55 and Bridgewater has 44.

It’s unlikely those figures will rise sharply any time soon, judging by the shortage of hybrids at local dealerships.

One hybrid was on the lot at Copeland Toyota last week, though — a Highlander SUV hybrid.

But the vehicle gets just 27 miles-per-gallon — better than other SUVs, but about the same as some traditional Toyota cars, such as the Corolla.

Last week, Atein said that Copeland Toyota was close to selling out of both the Corolla and the Yaris, which gets 29 miles-per-gallon in city driving.