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Hybrids gain Texas fans

The charging port for the 2012 Ford Focus Electric hatchback is in a front fender in about the same spot as the gasoline-tank filler tube for Chevrolet’s 1960s-era, rear-engine Corvair. The difference: no gas-guzzling.

When Cara Vela received an unexpected pay raise last month, she began wondering whether she should replace her 10-year-old Ford F-350.

A lifelong truck owner, the 44-year-old dental nurse said she mainly had been using the pickup to drive to work and to help friends move. After much prodding, Vela accepted her live-in boyfriend’s offer to go in together on a Ford Fusion Hybrid.

“I can keep the 350 in the garage” in case it’s needed, she said, “but gas ain’t ever going back to $1. I hate watching the (gas pump) counter keep rising and rising.

“My brothers make fun of me for driving a hybrid,” added the Helotes woman, who said all four siblings drive trucks. But “they’re the ones losing money.”

At auto lots throughout San Antonio, dealers said they’re seeing more customers like Vela.

Whether they plan to take advantage of government rebates or adopt a more eco-friendly lifestyle, an increasing number of Texans have bucked the state’s appetite for trucks and have turned to more fuel-efficient hybrid and all-electric vehicles, according to automakers’ recent sales figures.

At Ford dealerships, sales of electric and hybrid vehicles surged 236 percent between 2011 and 2012 in the company’s Houston region, which covers all Texas cities south of and including Austin. In San Antonio alone, Fusion Hybrid sales were up 120 percent.

Among the six Toyota dealerships in San Antonio, sales of hybrid vehicles — including the Prius family and Camry and Highlander hybrids — rose 63 percent in 2012 from the prior year and represented more than 10 percent of the group’s new-vehicle sales.

General Motors dealers saw sales of their electric and hybrid offerings climb 33 percent during the same period, from 1,085 units in 2011 to 1,441 one year later. At 907 units in 2011 and 1,238 in 2012, the plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt provided the bulk of that increase, though a spokesman said fleet sales contributed to the car’s popularity.

Chrysler currently does not manufacture an electric or hybrid model.

Dealerships such as Jordan Ford, at 13010 Interstate 35 North, simply can’t keep up with demand.

“Right now, our biggest holdup on selling (hybrid vehicles) is availability. That’s it,” said Jerry Strain, marketing and advertising director for Jordan Ford.



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