Supply woes stall hybrid SUVs
Carmakers are unsure how to meet demand as high gas prices drive up interest in fuel efficiency.
General Motors Corp. ran into troubles with the battery for last year's Saturn Vue hybrid SUVs, which has slowed production for 2008 models.
And GM's other hybrid trucks, the full-size Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon, are hard to find, in part because about half of the automakers' dealers opted not to sell them. Also, GM has produced the vehicles in limited numbers.
Bob Morgan of San Francisco said he was drawn to the Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid because it provides enough room to travel comfortably with his wife, teenage daughter and dog, and enough power to haul loads to the family's second home in the mountains.
Yet he doesn't feel any stigma from driving a full-size SUV in a town where environmentalism has long been a mainstream cause.
He bought his hybrid about two months ago and considers himself lucky because the few Tahoe hybrids still available in his area are now commanding more than the base-model $49,000 sticker price.
"I still see some on sale around here," he said. "But you look at the Chevy dealer lots, and they're tacking on a $2,000 to $4,000 premium."
GM spokesman John McDonald said the company is working carefully to match production with demand, so GM isn't delivering the trucks to dealer lots in large numbers. GM doesn't control what dealers charge for vehicles.
Dealers who sell a hybrid but don't have one on their lots can get one within weeks, McDonald said.
Edmunds estimates that GM has sold 1,000 to 1,200 Tahoe and Yukon hybrids since they went on sale in January. GM said it sold 589 of the trucks in May, but didn't provide year-to-date sales figures.
McDonald said the supply issue isn't entirely because of production limits. He said about half of GM dealers opted not to stock the hybrid SUVs. Dealers who wanted them were required to go through special training on servicing the trucks' high-voltage batteries and on explaining the technology to prospective buyers.
"We're talking about a $53,000 hybrid SUV," he said. "Nobody has done this before. We're trying to see where the market is."