I'm going out to fill up my car today. Gasoline here in my part of Austin is back below $2 a gallon.
That's good news for me and other drivers of conventional autos. And it could be equally good news for folks who want to shift to a hybrid.
As gas prices have fallen nationwide, the maker of the most popular hybrid model is looking at new and heretofore unfamiliar ways to move these vehicles off dealer lots.
Forget housing. We're in the midst of a hybrid bubble.
It now takes around a month to move a Prius, according to this ABC News story. Last year, the demand was so great that some buyers were waiting up to twice that long for one of the environmentally friendly vehicles to roll off the assembly line.
Part of the reason that Toyota dealers now are staring at lots full of Priuses (Pri-i?) is that gas prices have fallen everywhere, not just here in Central Texas. And those dealers are dealing with something they've never before experienced.
They're offering incentives to entice Prius buyers.
The enticements will include special loan and lease deals, as well as dealer discounts off the sticker price.
One selling point that was available last summer, during the height of the annual vacation driving season, is no longer available. The hefty tax break a Prius purchaser got just a few months ago is now just half as good. In fact, a few months ago, Toyota executives even publicly called on Congress to reinstate the company's full credit amounts.
And, thanks to the phase-out rules, Toyota's early sales success of the gas/electric vehicles means that the tax credit will be reduced even more on April 1. This previous blog post details the thinking (word used advisedly) of U.S. lawmakers in designing a diminishing credit to encourage drivers to cut back on fossil fuel usage.
So if you've been waiting to for a bargain on a Prius, now might be the time.
Full credits for other hybrids: While Toyota is paying the price for its hybrids' early popularity, other makers of eco-conscious cars can still tout their full tax credit amounts.
Even Toyota's nearest hybrid competitor, fellow Japanese automaker Honda, is still running well behind in the eco-auto sales race. The latest numbers the IRS has are for sales through last September, which then were just over 28,000.
That's leaves Honda a lot of cars to sell before it hits the magic, albeit somewhat arbitrary, 60k number that triggers the phase-out of the tax benefit.
Recipe for rising prices: Since we Americans tend to be a reactionary group of consumers, hybrid demand might heat up again in a few months.
Although this cool map from GasBuddy.com shows that pump prices for most of us are comfortably in the mid-$2 range, don't expect that to last. The recipe for higher pump prices is already simmering.
Take a hearty helping of the recent, and persistent, frigid conditions in the upper Midwest and East Coast and its effects on home-heating fuel costs.
Add a smidgen of the latest oil cutback by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
Toss in a dash of Middle East instability.
Then garnish with the approaching summertime, when gas prices always spike in conjunction with the traditional family driving vacation season.
Yep, if you're thinking about buying a hybrid, now might be a good time to go shopping. To help narrow down your potential purchase list, check out this IRS inventory of vehicles that currently qualify for the tax credit and the exact credit amount for each.