When was the last time you bought something, and its value went up? Especially if it was a car.
Maybe if I had garaged that two-seat, bugeye Austin Healey Sprite that my father restored for me as a teen-ager, I’d actually have a car worth more than the $500 I paid for it.
But my dad, who bought and sold used cars like Topps baseball cards, taught me this: If you do buy a new car, realize that as soon as you drive it off the lot it’s worth a lot less than what you just paid for it.
Well dad, the rule just changed. Soaring gas prices upended the marketplace, and the Toyota Prius hybrid, if you can find one, often is commanding higher prices than the sticker shows. If you’re lucky enough to buy a Prius and decide to sell in just a year or so, you might get a higher resale price than what you paid, according to J.D. Power & Associates.
Pulling off a trick like that in the stock market now will make you look like an investing genius.
Prius hybrids, the most fuel-efficient car sold in the U.S., are red hot. Because Toyota has not been able to meet demand, used 2008 models with about 8,000 miles are going for about $1,300 more than their original average retail price of about $27,945, according to the Autopia blog. Even crazier, a 2007 Prius is fetching an average price of $26,396, just a couple of hundred dollars less than a 2008 model.
I checked both Vehix.com and Craigslist, and I found prices ranging from about $27,290 for a 2007 to $29,500 for a 2008.
Boulder Toyota’s Web site listed a few 2008 models for sale, from $24,239 to $28,984, but, in fact, the local dealership is sold out. You could take a stack of hundred dollar bills today over to a Toyota dealer, and you’d be looking at a waiting list of three to six months, said Philo Grommon, a Toyota salesman. When they get a Prius, it rolls onto their Web site, he explained, but the car likely is already sold. Options on different cars, including the higher-end Touring model, obviously also increase the price.
Right up there with Apple’s initial iPod craze and the recent iPhone shortage, Toyota has been scrambling to meet wild demand in a market where consumers generally aren’t spending so much.
I was thinking about this crazy market flip from SUVs and big trucks to smaller, fuel-efficient cars on a recent drive down I-25. In what should have been a busy travel weekend, my friend and I started watching for RVs, and we actually saw very few, give or take a couple with Texas license plates. We did witness a slew of these gas hogs parked in storage areas and stacked up like firewood on RV sales lots.
With a wave of red, white and blue, Toyota will start manufacturing the Prius at a new plant in Mississippi in late 2010 and increase overall production by 70 percent. Hybrid buyers are awaiting other new arrivals including the Chevy Volt and an unnamed Honda. Ford will deliver a hybrid Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan. Many of these will debut at the 2009 Auto Show in Detroit, home until recently to rollouts of high-performance muscle cars and economy-minded innovations like the Hummer. With U.S. automakers reporting quarterly losses of $10 billion to $15 billion, you think they got the message?
Toyota has sold about 1.5 million Prius hybrids since it was introduced in 1997, and it’s forecasting sales of 1 million hybrid cars a year.
I know in my neighborhood alone, I’ve counted at least a half dozen Prius hybrids in driveways.
Rumors also are flying that Toyota might even include solar panels on its new 2009 model, possibly to power up accessories like air conditioning or to help charge up the car’s batteries.
When the Prius first came out, many buyers worried if its batteries would last, and what other problems would emerge with the new technology.
Dave Taylor, a Boulderite who writes several popular blogs, including a tech Q&A at Askdavetaylor.com, bought his Prius in 2004 and described it as “a geek car owner’s dream.” But he had problems with the starter battery being too weak for some Colorado conditions. “The Prius has been dead so many times, I ended up buying a jumper battery that I permanently keep in the car now,” he said.
“I am seriously considering replacing the Prius with a different hybrid, one that has a better starter battery subsystem,” he told me.
Even with some problems, Taylor is sold on gas-saving hybrids, and hordes of drivers are thinking the same way.
I just filled up my truck today for the bargain price of $3.819 a gallon. But even if gas prices do continue their recent slight descent, Americans are thinking hard about the future. And up in a Detroit high-rise somewhere, car designers are, too.