Are Japanese hybrid cars in low supply?

March 21, 2011 4:38:52 PM PDT
The aftermath of the quake and tsunami is affecting Japanese automakers at a time when rising gasoline prices are pushing many Americans toward more fuel efficient cars. But the natural disasters in Japan could affect your search for a new car.

The tsunami knocked production of hybrids made in Japan offline. Honda halted production at two facilities, and one of their plants in Sayama suffered fire damage and one death. Another plant, in Miyagi, that supplies hybrid batteries in the Toyota Prius, Camry and Lexus, we're told suffered limited damage.

Now local dealers are wondering if hybrid orders for their lots will be harder to come by.

Fresh merchandise rolls onto the lot at Russell and Smith Honda, and a shiny hybrid will get its spot on the lot and hopefully catch the eye of a miles-per-gallon conscience consumer.

"It's like $80 to put gas in right now and that's ridiculous," one car shopper Ariel Adams said.

And with gas prices climbing, as we head into summer, hybrid dealerships are hoping supplies are not stymied, by the tsunami.

The Toyota and Honda plants that produce hybrids and their batteries were damaged by the tsunami and remain shutdown.

Local dealers are waiting to hear what that means for future orders.

"Could it become a concern? I would say it's going to have an effect at some point and how long a time, I don't have that answer," said Thomas Melanson, an internet manager at the Russell and Smith Honda dealership.

Supplies are already lean. Russell and Smith just sold out of its Civic hybrid. And demand was already up before the Japanese factories were damaged.

"Gas prices are having the biggest effect. It's driving business," Melanson said.

Right now, Houston-area dealers have not been told there will be a disruption in hybrid supplies and have not changed price points or incentives being offered off the MSRP sticker on the windshield.

"Currently we are making the exact same deals that we were before," Melanson said.

So for now, it's just petro prices driving shoppers onto the lot.

"They say it's gonna go to like $5," Adams said. "I'm a college student I can't afford $5 a gallon for gas."

We spoke with Toyota Spokesman Javier Moreno, who says at this point they continue to evaluate the situation, but at this time they are not sure when production will begin.

As side from hybrids, GM is also halting production of some vehicles because of a lack of parts coming out of Japan.