Hybrid, Electric Cars Gain in Texas
From Houston Chronicle
By Neal Morton
When Cara Vela received an unexpected pay raise last month, she began wondering whether she should replace her 10-year-old Ford F-350.
A lifelong truck owner, the 44-year-old dental nurse said she mainly had been using the pickup to drive to work and to help friends move. After much prodding, Vela accepted her live-in boyfriend’s offer to go in together on a Ford Fusion Hybrid.
“I can keep the 350 in the garage,” she said, “but gas ain’t ever going back to $1. I hate watching the (gasoline pump) counter keep rising and rising.
“My brothers make fun of me for driving a hybrid,” she said, referring to her four truck-driving siblings. But, she added, “they’re the ones losing money.”
Other automobile dealers said they’re seeing more customers like Vela.
Whether they plan to take advantage of government rebates or adopt a more eco-friendly lifestyle, an increasing number of Texans have turned to more fuel-efficient hybrid and all-electric vehicles, recent sales figures show.
At Ford dealerships, sales of electric and hybrid vehicles surged 236 percent between 2011 and 2012 in the company’s Houston region, which covers all Texas cities south of and including Austin. In Houston alone, Fusion Hybrid sales were up 124 percent.
Among General Motors dealerships in Houston, sales of electric and hybrid vehicles climbed 277 percent during the same period, from 192 units in 2011 to 724 one year later. The Chevrolet Malibu and Volt hybrids proved the most popular with Houston car shoppers with 2012 sales of 121 and 169 respectively.
Chrysler currently does not manufacture an electric or hybrid model, and Toyota released sales numbers only for San Antonio.
Dealers such as Aaron Smith, who works at Planet Ford on the North Freeway, said he can’t keep enough Fusion Hybrids on the lot to meet demand.
“I have zero in stock,” he said. “I would sell a lot more, if we had more.
“Sales have definitely increased over the past few years, and they’re going to go up. I’m excited about the cutting-edge technology in these cars, and Ford’s not the only one doing it.”
While customers used to be more concerned about fuel economy, he said, many have taken a recent interest in hybrid and electric vehicles because of overall performance. Smith specifically mentioned how drivers want the instant acceleration of an electric engine instead of the delay of a combustion system.
“Looking at just the raw volume, the counts will be up because the whole market’s up,” he said. “We really haven’t seen anything in the share of market penetration for hybrids and even less so for electric (vehicles) go beyond 2 percent nationally and in Texas maybe 1 or 1½ percent.”
He said the majority of truck owners drive trucks out of necessity and predicted they likely wouldn’t move to greener vehicles until automakers begin improving alternative-fuel technology in their pickups.
Ram already has begun testing that market and on Wednesday started delivering a compressed-natural-gas Ram 2500 to dealers in Oklahoma. The company estimated the market for natural-gas vehicles could reach 10 percent of new-vehicle sales over time, though that share stands at less than 1 percent currently.
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