The laws of supply and demand seemed to be in abeyance for the moment. Low demand and plenty of supply does not, at the moment at least, translate into cheap petrol. Instead, according to AAA, the weak dollar sent investors running for safe cover in early December, which turned out to be — among other places — crude oil futures.
So here we are, right at Christmas time, having to reach deeper to pay for gas to go visit the cousins, get to the shopping mall or make a trip to the tree lot. It just doesn’t seem fair.
Of course, one way to beat the gas-price pinch is to get yourself a vehicle that goes easy on the stuff, or in the case of one new auto, doesn’t use gas at all.
The Nissan Leaf rolled onto the world stage a few days ago to a mighty ovation. The world’s newest mass-produced all-electric vehicle is something else, say the critics.
It handles wonderfully, driving not like a golf cart but, well, like a car. It seats five, will get up and go ... up to 90 miles per hour and, says the EPA, gets the equivalent of 99 miles per gallon.
There are drawbacks. The Leaf will travel about 75 miles before you have to recharge it, a task that can take up to seven hours. Also, a buyer would need to purchase separately a battery charger package at a cost of several thousand dollars.
The biggest hurdle, however, is the price of the Leaf. Prices will vary, but the company lists the recommended retail price at $33,600. Now, with a federal tax credit of $7,500, the price comes down to $26,100, but for a lot of people that’s still a steep price to pay for what is otherwise an ordinary sedan.
Only a few people, however, will have to grapple with the pros and cons of purchasing the Leaf anytime soon. The company only built 20,000 for the year, and they have long since been spoken for, nationwide. If you wanted one, you would have had to go to the company’s website back in April, put in a $99 deposit and wait for the car to arrive in one of five states: Oregon, Washington, California, Arizona and Tennessee.
Nissan, however, is expected to manufacture and ship out a lot more in the future, says local Nissan dealer Dale Benton.
“Well, from all that I have heard, it’s a great car,” said Benton, the owner and general manager of Family Nissan in Oxford. “We’ll be an official dealer of the Leaf in April [for 2012 models] and I expect it to be a good seller.”
While Benton said it may take a while yet, he does see the Leaf as eventually redefining the industry.
“I do believe it will be a slow process,” he said, “but I think it will revolutionize the whole industry. I think there’s a market for it nationwide, and I think there’s a market for it around here.”
If you want to be slightly less purist about it, you can set your sights on the new Chevy Volt. Models of this hybrid should begin showing up at local Chevrolet dealerships sometime next year, says Billy Newman at Cooper Chevrolet in Anniston.
The Volt has some impressive numbers as well. The EPA puts the average miles per gallon at 60 (the government admits this can get complicated when trying to calculate the MPG in an electric or hybrid vehicle) and the range of the Volt at close to 400 miles.
The big drawback with the Volt is the price tag. With the federal tax credit, you are still looking at $33,500, not something that easily fits into the working family’s budget.
All-electric cars are still a novelty for the most part. Besides the Leaf, there’s a car assembled in Finland that will be sold in the United States called the Th!nk City car. It has a range of 110 miles, charges overnight and will retail for less than $25,000. There’s also the Tesla, the car of choice for wealthy movie stars, but with a price tag of upwards of $100,000, it’s out of reach for most everyone else. It does, however, look more like a Camaro than a rolling bread box.
Other companies, including Honda, Toyota and Volkswagen, are working on their own versions of all-electric vehicles.
Of course, there are a number of hybrids already on the market, including the Toyota Prius, which has been around since 2001. The newest generation of that car gets a combined 50 mpg (city and highway) and will cost you anywhere from $22,000 to $28,000. With the tax credit, some people can almost swallow that.
Others, including the Ford Fusion and the Honda Civic hybrid, have a slightly lower overall gas mileage and are generally priced in the mid-20s.
The dilemma, of course, is that you can pay less for a quality car that isn’t a hybrid.
The new Hyundai Elantra is a good example.
There are a number of these cars on the lot at Superior Hyundai in Anniston, says Chase Fair, the company’s new-car manager.
“It’s a good-looking car,” he said. “It looks more like a Lexus I-series than anything, but at about $18,000, a lot cheaper.”
Fair added that the Elantra gets excellent gas mileage, in the 40 mpg range, and has a superb safety rating.
Benton, the Nissan dealer, however, points to the future. His estimate is, eventually, even hybrids will start to disappear from the highway as the infrastructure is built to accommodate the growing all-electric car market. And there is, of course, the satisfaction that you will no longer be captive to the wild fluctuation of the gasoline market.
“The average American driver travels about 12,000 miles per year,” he said. “It’s not quite there yet, but if you figure gas at $3 a gallon, that’s $3,600 a year. A lot of people don’t think about it that way. But that’s a big extra savings.”
Anniston Star Editor at large John Fleming explores issues related to the area’s economy and businesses in this weekly news column. Send topic suggestions to email@example.com