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Why are hybrid vehicles so scarce?
May 31, 2008 9:45 AM   Subscribe

Why are hybrid vehicles so hard to find?

My wife and I are new car shopping and have set a limit of ~30mpg as the minimum for fuel efficiency. Thing is, it's hard to find a non-hybrid that gets that unless it's small, and we've got one baby with a rear-facing seat and another planned for next year, so we'd like some extra leg room to accommodate them.

Enter the Ford Escape Hybrid. 34/30 mpg, the only hybrid SUV that gets mileage that good and is decently priced, appears to have decent room, and could actually be used to haul some stuff from time to time, which is a plus. We love the idea, want to test drive one.

Except nobody has them. I've checked dealers in Little Rock, Memphis, Nashville, Tulsa, and even Dallas. No dealer websites show them in inventory. My wife called a local dealer to ask about this, and was informed that they couldn't even order one for us if we wanted. They are literally nearly impossible to find in the US. Some cursory Googling tells us that other hybrid vehicles ain't much better.

So here's the question: why? Especially in a market where US automakers are struggling, if there's demand that high for your product, why are you not making more of them? The economics of this evades me -- what does creating artificial scarcity do for them financially, when they could just flat-out sell more cars? Is it artificial scarcity, or are they just seeing a bigger run on their vehicles than they anticipated? If it's the latter, why not ramp up production pronto?
posted by middleclasstool to Shopping (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Is it everywhere in the US or is it just a hundred mile radius around where you live? I know that the general attitude towards hybrid cars in, for instance, Georgia, is not particularly nice. Nor P.C. There's no market for them there, so no places carry them.
posted by phunniemee at 9:53 AM on May 31, 2008


All Things Considered from NPR, March 31 2008- Hybrid SUVs are Missing in Action
posted by baphomet at 9:58 AM on May 31, 2008


There's tons of hybrids available up here in hippie-dippie Seattle, both new and used. You may need to expand your search; perhaps try other local dealers until you find one that is willing to source the car for you (my father just bought a car from a Seattle dealership that was willing to truck in the exact model he wanted from a Florida dealership). Or, try working from the other end; call Honda dealerships on the coasts and see if one of them would be able to convince your local dealer to set up a dealer trade. Eventually somebody will want to take your money.
posted by bizwank at 10:06 AM on May 31, 2008


I don't have an answer for you but I noticed another weird thing with Ford cars recently. In the UK Ford has the Ka and the Fiesta. Both are compact cars that would be perfect for this market. Ford knows how to build them, has the equipment in place to build them, and yet their most recently new vehicle released in the US was a crossover SUV. It's like their dumping their leftovers on the market right now and they don't want anything to get in the way of their ride down into bankruptcy.
posted by 517 at 10:11 AM on May 31, 2008


There is a limited production and a further production is limited by the availability of the batteries.

phunniemee, where did you get your information about hybrids in Georgia? Hybrids are sold in Georgia.
posted by Frank Grimes at 10:14 AM on May 31, 2008


I live(d) in Georgia. It doesn't matter if they "sell" them in Georgia if people don't want to buy them.
posted by phunniemee at 10:21 AM on May 31, 2008



I believe some companies only do a limited run of hybrids just so they can say they make them and they can run the commercials that show they "care". Then when you go into buy said hybrid they "Oh, sorry. We have a waiting list for those. But you can buy a regular car right now and I'll give you a great deal!" It's a bait and switch move on a grand scale and it seems really shortsighted to me.

I think the key is they see hybrid merely as a marketing tool and not a philosophy that guide their direction as an industry.
posted by sharkfu at 10:22 AM on May 31, 2008


Even those cheap fuel efficient cars like the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris are equally hard to find. Waiting lists are the norm. Car dealerships don't want to keep these vehicles on the lot because there isn't much markup in the price. They'd rather have 200 pickups on the lot and take the insane markup on those units. It's all financial decisions.
posted by mattbucher at 10:44 AM on May 31, 2008


A quick look on CarMax's website shows three Escape Hybrids available nationwide. They're not new, of course, but there's the classic argument that the best deal in cardom is a lightly used one or two year old vehicle. Think about it.

As for availability, seconding many other people, supplies are constrained by (1) battery availability (particularly in the case of any company other than Toyota), (2) high demand due to higher fuel prices, and (3) otherwise limited production. That last case, for example, is typified by the Nissan Altima Hybrid which they won't even sell in most states.

As a last suggestion, you might want to consider trying to find a Mercury Mariner hybrid. It's essentially the same vehicle as the Escape but with different, and in my opinion nicer, trim.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 10:50 AM on May 31, 2008


Ford dealerships in California have lots of Escape Hybrids. Maybe you fly out here, buy one, and drive it home.

Also, going through a broker like carsdirect.com that uses dealers' fleet managers instead of salespeople may be the key to getting a car like this.
posted by zsazsa at 10:51 AM on May 31, 2008


Even those cheap fuel efficient cars like the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris are equally hard to find. Waiting lists are the norm.

I don't know of all of the economics behind this, but at least where I live in the Midwest this is how it's been the entire time hybrids have been around.

When I bought a new Honda Civic Hybrid a few years ago, a few dealerships nearby had one available to test drive, but none of them had any available to buy on the lot. I ordered one in January and I had to wait until June to actually get it. Still, having a 50 MPG car with gas prices these days makes up for having to go through that kind of hassle.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:21 AM on May 31, 2008


Does it have to be a hyrbrid and an SUV, or just get 30 mpg? My two-door hatchback Civic got 39mpg on the highway, and my Toyota Matrix XRS gets 36 mpg. Both are standard transmission (the Matrix has TONS of leg room and is very easy to get a kid in/out of a car seat).
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 11:33 AM on May 31, 2008


A quick look on CarMax's website shows three Escape Hybrids available nationwide.

I have no idea what the problem is with CarMax, but results from Cars.com are:

Nationwide,
Nationwide, 185 used Escape Hybrdids, some of the not too far from the OP.

To get a new car quote, you generally need to send contact info. I would try going via Ford's Escape Hybrid site here, and see who wants to sell you one. It won't take long, I guarantee you.
posted by beagle at 11:39 AM on May 31, 2008


"Especially in a market where US automakers are struggling, if there's demand that high for your product, why are you not making more of them? The economics of this evades me -- what does creating artificial scarcity do for them financially, when they could just flat-out sell more cars? Is it artificial scarcity, or are they just seeing a bigger run on their vehicles than they anticipated? If it's the latter, why not ramp up production pronto?"

The first constraint in making any automobile is plant capacity. It costs a lot of capital money and worker training to configure a plant to make a specific model. Once you have three shifts making a car you can't make anymore until you bring another plant on line. You may not want to do this if you think the spike might be temporary or if you are loosing money on everything else. Or they may be deciding to convert a truck plant to produce the car based escape but conversion can take several months.

The second constraint is usually a supplier who can only produce so many key items. The '70 Six Pack 340 is a classic example. Chrysler had no problem selling every single one they produced but Endelbrock, the supplier for the intake manifold, limited production to a few thousand units. There is no doubt at least an order of magnitude or possibly even two could have been sold if Endelbrock could have supplied the intakes. Batteries, controllers, motors are all possibly in this category for hybrids.
posted by Mitheral at 11:46 AM on May 31, 2008


Soaring gas prices are shifting the car market stunningly fast. As for those who see a conspiracy, may I point you to this from an Autoblog post from way back in March 2006:

"High profile market introductions and Muppet pitchfrogs aside, the Blue Oval is struggling with its hybrid initiative, and recently doubled its incentives on its green-tinged SUVs to $1,000. Though it remains early in the year, at its present clip, Ford is only selling about half its hybrid capacity and waiting lists have dwindled to zero..."

As this article notes, Ford ships most Escape Hybrids to the coasts. They're even hard to find in Detroit.
posted by pmurray63 at 11:52 AM on May 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's artificial scarcity.

Scarcity breeds high prices, high prices breed higher profits, higher profits = Business. No, really. They keep them just scarce enough that you see one at the dealer and say "OH MAN I NEEDS THAT BECAUSE THEY NEVER EVER HAVE THOSE" and you buy it without realizing that you're not actually helping yourself or the environment.

imo, and you didn't ask: skip the prius and snag an echo or a smart, eliminate the heavy metals and 50% greater embodied energy cost, and save $10,000 that you can use to buy more wicked petroleum.
posted by TomMelee at 12:15 PM on May 31, 2008


TomMelee, read the question--they've got a couple of carseats to accommodate; there's no way they'll fit in an Echo or a SmartCar. Now if only automakers could be persuaded to design backseats that were actually designed for and safe for children, we wouldn't have to buy tons more car than we need just to move a 10-pound baby around.
posted by libraryhead at 12:23 PM on May 31, 2008


">Here is a used one in Atlanta.

I don't know if you want to drive that far, but there seems to be a fair number of hybrids. (In Georgia no less.)
posted by stormygrey at 1:14 PM on May 31, 2008


I don't have an answer for you but I noticed another weird thing with Ford cars recently. In the UK Ford has the Ka and the Fiesta. Both are compact cars that would be perfect for this market.

Ford has, in fact, just announced that it will produce the Fiesta in a plant in Mexico for sale in North America. I imagine that the production and parts constraints cited above, as well as the need to meet US safety and emission standards, play a role here. Likewise, with the profit margin on small cars relatively low, perhaps Ford has calculated that it works better to build the cars closer to the US, in a low-cost labor market, rather than importing them from overseas.

To the OP: Don't write off the smaller cars, unless you think you really do need an SUV for some reason. Surely you can find a car with sufficient legroom to allow you to have two car-seats in the back seat and load your kiddos in -- unless your car-seats are exceptionally large, or your front seats do not move back and forth.
posted by Robert Angelo at 1:27 PM on May 31, 2008


My two-door hatchback Civic got 39mpg on the highway, and my Toyota Matrix XRS gets 36 mpg.

I don't know about the Matrix, but we've got a Civic that we love, except there's no way you can fit our rear-facing seat directly behind the front seat without shoving that front seat most of the way forward, and we don't have one of the larger baby seats. That won't work behind the driver's seat for me. Might look into the Matrix, though.

Nationwide, 185 used Escape Hybrdids, some of the not too far from the OP.

One of them ten miles or so north of my parents' place in Missouri. Might be good for a weekend trip. But goddamn, it looks like some of those used ones are selling at or above MSRP for the base model.

Surely you can find a car with sufficient legroom to allow you to have two car-seats in the back seat and load your kiddos in -- unless your car-seats are exceptionally large, or your front seats do not move back and forth.

Well, the problem is finding one that gets 30 or above. You can get sedans that will work, but they may only get 20-25 mpg. We're having a hard time finding one that will have enough room in the back and yet be as efficient as our smaller Honda and Saturn sedans. In fact, since the EPA raised standards for fuel efficiency ratings, there are shockingly few non-compact cars in the US that get 30 or better, period. But I'm not necessarily wedded to getting a hybrid -- just looked like a best-of-both-worlds situation.
posted by middleclasstool at 2:45 PM on May 31, 2008


Well, the problem is finding one that gets 30 or above. You can get sedans that will work, but they may only get 20-25 mpg. We're having a hard time finding one that will have enough room in the back and yet be as efficient as our smaller Honda and Saturn sedans.

Take a look at the Honda Fit. It's truly amazing how much interior room/cargo space it has for such a tiny car -- I think you'd be surprised at how much passenger and cargo room there is compared with other compact wagons and sedans. I doubt you'd have trouble with the rear-facing seats. 27 city, 34 highway. It costs half as much as the Escape.
posted by eschatfische at 4:44 PM on May 31, 2008


I have a four door Yaris with three children in car seats in back (including our newborn in a big infant seat) and a jogging stroller in the hatchback. My husband and I are tall/big people so the front seats are pretty far back. Personally, I am really happy with it. We have even been camping, fitting it all in the hatchback. You might want to take another look at it, bringing your carseat to the dealership. I have also noticed their is almost no depreceation in the firsst couple of years (especially if including the federal eco-auto grant of $1000 I got).
posted by saucysault at 5:12 PM on May 31, 2008


saucysault is right on the money. My wife's car is a Yaris sedan and it actually has more interior room than the same year Corolla. Probably more than my Focus ZTS despite the car being tiny. The car has things like electronic steering that result in an engine compartment about half the size of what you'd expect due to the smaller components. It's not luxurious in the back seat, but you can easily fit two adults with a trunk as large as many compacts and mid-sizes.

Availability will be about the same as the hybrids, however.
posted by cellphone at 8:41 PM on May 31, 2008


You might consider a Mini Cooper, as long as folks are suggesting other cars. There's a back seat that I know from experience will fit two kids (even two adults, but not on a long trip unless they're short) and you can fold down the back seats for tons of storage room. A 2007 Mini with manual transmission gets 32/city, 40/hwy, and is super fun to drive. They're not terribly expensive, either.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 10:09 AM on June 1, 2008


Oh, and they have very high resale value compared to most other cars. And you never have to haggle about price at the dealership.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 10:10 AM on June 1, 2008


There's a back seat that I know from experience will fit two kids

The point I want to stress here is not two kids, but two rear-facing baby seats, which stick out a considerable distance. Stuff like a Cooper ain't gonna work for that.
posted by middleclasstool at 11:55 AM on June 1, 2008


"I don't have an answer for you but I noticed another weird thing with Ford cars recently. In the UK Ford has the Ka and the Fiesta."

Fiestas were available for a long time in the US.
posted by klangklangston at 11:12 AM on June 2, 2008


So far the car dealers have been doing an even better job than you guys of getting me away from the hybrids. Jesus, what a frigging scam this market is. Have to buy at least a thousand or two over MSRP, buy it sight unseen without a test drive, and wait at least 8-12 weeks. Plus, since they're so scarce, financing's pretty much identical to what you can get at a bank.

Looking so far like we'll dial back our mpg requirements a bit and do something like a Matrix or a Rogue.
posted by middleclasstool at 12:46 PM on June 3, 2008


Final verdict, purchased today, was a Mazda 5. A noticeable step down in fuel economy, but comparable to or better than most sedans on the market. Not quite as happy as I wish I were on the fuel issue, but highway mileage gets close to 30, which is what our Civic gets, so hey.
posted by middleclasstool at 12:55 PM on June 6, 2008


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