Hybrid cars are quietly gaining in popularity | TahoeDailyTribune.com
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Hybrid cars are quietly gaining in popularity

Amanda Fehd
Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune / South Lake Tahoe resident Lori London drives her hybrid four-wheel-drive SUV through town.
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With gas prices back up to post-Hurricane Katrina levels, the buzz word is once more “hybrid.”

Businessman Lou Pierini claims to be the first person in town to own a hybrid vehicle. He bought his Toyota Prius in 2001 and might as well be a company spokesperson.

“The emissions are cleaner than the ambient air of the Los Angeles basin,” he bragged Thursday while giving a reporter a test drive in his girlfriend’s new Toyota Highlander, a four-wheel-drive sport utility vehicle.

Stopping at an intersection, the car went quiet. Turns out, hybrids turn off completely when stopped in traffic.

And that saves a lot of gas.

Americans burn 753 million gallons of gasoline a year idling in stop-and-go traffic, according to the Federal Highway Administration. At Thursday’s California average of $2.50 a gallon, that amounts to $1.9 billion a year to sit in traffic.

Pierini says maintenance on the Prius has been a cinch.

“I haven’t done a thing to it.”

The only problem is hybrids cost about 10 percent more than their standard counterparts. The hybrid Highlander costs around $40,000, while the standard Highlanders runs around $36,000.

Now a lot of the extra costs will be offset by rebates. The federal government launched a new tax credit this year of $3,500 to encourage people to buy the fuel efficient cars.

Of course, gas savings also help pay off the extra purchase costs. The hybrid Highlander gets 32 miles per gallon, while the standard gets 20 miles per gallon, according to manufacturer’s estimates.

People are catching on. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency just ordered three hybrids to replace its staff fleet, said spokeswoman Julie Regan.

Shehadi motors has two Toyota hybrid models in stock: the Prius and the Highlander.

They haven’t had a used hybrid in the five years they’ve been out.

“People don’t sell their hybrids,” said Shehadi salesman Matt Sipe. “Most people that purchase them are buying to keep it.”

John Cefalu, who owns a gas station with his family, even endorsed them.

“In spite of the fact that I’m in the business, it’s absolutely ridiculous the amount of fuel this country consumes,” he said. “Looking for ways to conserve is the way to go.”


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