Not three months ago, the Toyota Prius was nailed to the showroom floor. Less expensive gas and a year’s worth of bad press surrounding the “unintended acceleration” issue (read: “I stepped on the gas and the brake” issue) meant that Toyota’s hybrid car was suddenly subject to interesting financing and discounts, which had never happened before.
Fast forward to March 11, 2011: Japan is shaken by a massive earthquake and following tsunami, and amongst other more serious issues, automotive production grinds to a halt. When all is said and done, the entire country will experience somewhere close to a month-long auto industry shutdown.
Combine that with the fact that Americans are set to experience gas prices in the $4.00/gallon range by the “summer driving season” and suddenly, dealers are finding that they can charge at least MSRP, or even a hefty premium, for the car that just a few months ago was synonymous with “lemon.”
Here’s the reality: Inventories are going to be tight for the next year. Toyota builds the Prius in Japan, so we’re looking at at least a month without one being produced. Gas prices are similarly going to be expensive at least until we get past Labor Day. Not such great news, I guess.
But the other reality is that Toyota hasn’t suddenly decided to stop producing Priuses. They’re popular here, but in Japan, they’re the number one selling car. When production ramps up again, the Prius will be one of the first cars to be produced. And, as sure as the sun rises in the east, gas prices will come back down again. Once we get finished bombing Lybia and the Middle East settles back into its consistent pattern of occasional bomb-throwing and strife, the price of gasoline will be back to the $2.45 range before you know it.
Ask anybody that bought a Prius in 2005 after Katrina hit. They paid a massive premium for those cars, and then saw the bottom drop right out of the hybrid market because they bought one at the peak of the market.
Chasing pennies on the gallon never makes any sense. Edmunds.com has a pretty cool True Cost to Own tool that’ll prove this out. If you factor in depreciation financing, insurance, sales tax and all of the associated fees involved with buying a new car, even a fuel-sipper like the Prius — at a discounted price — results in a cost of $14,043 for the first year alone. At 15,000 miles a year, with a fuel cost of $3.52 a gallon, you could drive a Ford Excursion for three years before you spent that kind of money.