3/17/2009

Why Government shouldn't mandate what people buy

From the LA Times:

The Ford and Honda hybrids due out this month are among dozens planned for the coming years as automakers try to meet new fuel-efficiency standards and please politicians overseeing the industry's multibillion-dollar bailout.

Unfortunately for the automakers, hybrids are a tough sell these days.

Americans have cut back on buying vehicles of all types as the economy continues its slide. But the slowdown has been particularly brutal for hybrids, which use electricity and gasoline as power sources. They were the industry's darling just last summer, but sales have collapsed as consumers refuse to pay a premium for a fuel-efficient vehicle now that the average price of a gallon of gasoline nationally has slipped below $2.

"When gas prices came down, the priority of buying a hybrid fell off quite quickly," said Wes Brown, a partner at Los Angeles-based market research firm Iceology. "Yet even as consumer interest declined, the manufacturers have continued to pump them out."

Last month, only 15,144 hybrids sold nationwide, down almost two-thirds from April, when the segment's sales peaked and gas averaged $3.57 a gallon. That's far larger than the drop in industry sales for the period and scarcely a better showing than January, when hybrid sales were at their lowest since early 2005.

In July, U.S. Toyota dealers didn't have enough Prius models in stock to last two days, and many were charging thousands of dollars above sticker price for the few they had.

Today there are about 80 days' worth on hand, and dealers are working much harder -- even with the help of $500 factory rebates -- to move the egg-shaped gas-savers off lots from Santa Monica to Miami. . . . .

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