With oil prices rising and gas mileage hovering in the single digits for sport utility vehicles, more local consumers are going electric.
Hybrid vehicles, which combine a gasoline engine with an electric motor to increase gas mileage and decrease emissions, are gaining popularity.
At Joe Machens Toyota in Columbia, the wait for a 2005 Toyota Prius is 18 months, salesman Ramon Dearman said.
The dealer has sold 30 Priuses this year — twice the number sold last year — salesman Brian Reasoner said. Fifteen more have been ordered.
Toyota announced last week that it will increase the number of Priuses for the U.S. market next year to 100,000, about double the number in 2004.
Ford Motor Co. is also getting into the hybrid-car market with its 2005 Escape Hybrid, the first hybrid SUV. Scott Calhoun of Joe Machens Ford in Columbia said the cars are scheduled to arrive at the end of this year.
“There’s most definitely been a lot of interest,” he said, with at least 12 people already having paid a deposit on a car. Another 50 to 60 people are on an informal waiting list.
“I think every salesperson here has talked to someone who has said, ‘Call me when it gets here; I want one,’ ” Calhoun said. “If they haven’t paid a deposit … it will be difficult to get.”
Hybrid and other alternative-fuel vehicles were on display Saturday at the second annual Sustainable Living Fair at the Unity Center of Columbia.
Jan Weaver, director of environmental studies at MU, brought her 2001 Honda Insight to the fair in hopes of persuading more people to buy the cars.
“I think it would make a real dent in gasoline consumption if more people adopted this technology,” she said.
While cars operating solely on electrical engines need to be plugged in to recharge, the hybrid technology uses wasted kinetic energy to recharge the battery.
The engine turns off as the car idles at stop signs, reducing gasoline consumption. It turns back on when the driver puts a foot on the gas pedal.
Hybrids were not the only environmentally friendly cars featured Saturday. Alongside Weaver’s Honda Insight were a model that runs on biodiesel fuel and a Dodge Cummings remodeled to run on used vegetable oil.
Julia Schafermeyer, the MU senior who owns the Dodge Cummings, said she got it modified in July to include an additional tank for the oil and some filters. The modification cost about $2,000, but she hardly ever has to pay for fuel. Instead, she collects used vegetable oil for her truck from downtown businesses.
As for the smell, Schafermeyer said, it’s barely noticeable.
“It’s not like being in McDonald’s,” she said. “If I drive past somebody, they don’t notice.”