Although Portlanders may own more hybrid vehicles for every 1,000 households than any other city in the nation, according to the latest dealer sales statistics, North Coast residents aren't following that example.

With 8.8 hybrids for every 1,000 households, Portland has led the nation in the ownership of hybrids for the past two years, according to, which tracks the sales of new and used cars throughout the United States.

But just 100 miles to the northwest, sales are lagging.

Sales of hybrid vehicles - cars and trucks that work on both gasoline and electricity - are only 2 to 3 percent compared to sales of gasoline-only vehicles, say car dealers in Longview, Wash., Astoria and Warrenton. The reasons for the low sales are due to higher prices for hybrids, the perception that hybrids aren't necessary in a rural area and the lack of available hybrids on car lots.

"We have two Toyota stores in eastern Washington that sell a lot of hybrids, but in Southwest Washington, I'm wondering if we have less people who are environmentally conscious," said Jim Scott, general manager of Bud Clary Auto Dealerships in Longview. The company's Yakima store, Scott added, is the No. 1 Prius seller in Washington.

However, North Coast residents may be price conscious, Scott added. The price for a hybrid is about $5,000 higher than its gasoline-powered counterpart.

A Chevrolet Tahoe, for instance runs about $40,000; the hybrid Tahoe is $45,000. The same is true for the Cadillac Escalade: the gas-only vehicle is $50,000; the hybrid costs $55,000.

In comparison, the Toyota Prius, the most popular hybrid in the United States, is selling for between $23,000 and $32,000, depending on the features included.

In addition to the price, North Coasters may ask themselves if they really need a hybrid on rural streets, where the speed is faster. Electric cars are more fuel-efficient than gas-only cars and produce less pollution, so they might make more sense in urban stop-and-go traffic.

That may change, however, when the Chevrolet Volt arrives next fall or winter, Scott said. That plug-in electric car is designed to run 40 miles on an electric charge; after that, the gas engine will kick in, achieving, Scott said, up to 230 miles per gallon. A $7,500 federal tax credit may also be available for buyers, he added.

A few customers at Ocean Crest Chevrolet in Warrenton request hybrids, "but not very many," said Chris Hayward, the dealership's owner.

Of the 60 cars usually on his lot, only one or two are hybrids, said Haywood, who occasionally drives a hybrid of his own.

Whether they will become more popular, he said, depends on future fuel prices. "When gas is $4 or more, there's a lot of interest, but when it's less than $3, there's not that much. People vote with their pocketbook," he said.

Public awareness of the increasing number of hybrid models also might translate into demand, said Hayward. Unlike the Toyota Prius, which has been available worldwide for nine years, General Motors brought out its hybrids only two years ago.

Still, public acceptance may take awhile, Hayward added. "I think people are skeptical," he said.

Customers who request a Ford Escape or Fusion hybrid when they go to Astoria Ford may have to order a car and wait eight to 12 weeks, said Scott Birdwell, general manager.

"We don't have any, we have difficulty getting them. Ford is not manufacturing very many.

"We have a lot of people come by and ask for them, but without having any to show, they are hard to sell," added Birdwell, who said he was frustrated with the inability to display the cars. "Maybe next year," he said.

More hybrids may be sold at Lum's Auto Center in Warrenton than any other dealer in the area.

Although publicity about problems with Toyota hybrids slowed sales in February, they have picked up a little since then, said Bill Graffius, the Internet sales manager at Lum's. He recently had two inquiries about hybrids.

While customers continue to be reluctant to pay a higher price for hybrids, the excitement is building, Graffius said.

He admitted that it could take five years for an owner pay off the initial higher cost by saving on fuel, but overall, hybrids have "phenomenal fuel economy," he said.

"It's a solid, dependable, nice ride," he added. "If you drive through gridlock everyday, the Prius and Camry are the best cars."

Customers worry about the battery technology and the cars' ability to "snap" into a higher gear quickly. But batteries have an eight-year or 100,000-mile warranty, Graffius said.

The cars' acceleration also shouldn't be a problem, he said. "You need to drive it," he tells those who are curious about hybrids' power.

Those thinking about buying a hybrid need to ask themselves if the car fits their needs, if it's comfortable for them, if they want fuel savings and how much they are going to be driving it, he added.

There may be other gasoline-only cars that might suit them, but hybrids are "kinder to the environment," Graffius said.

"If buyers care about emissions and care about technology that is greener, this is the leading technology," he said.


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