Concerned about the environment? Consider a hybrid vehicle

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    icon Sep 20, 2007
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With his concern for the environment, Saginaw's Ken Kousky made a new kind of choice last fall when he was on the market for a small-sized sports utility vehicle.

He purchased a Toyota Highlander with a hybrid adjustment that combines traditional gas fuel with electric power.

Result: One person's contribution toward cleaner air, and against the ozone depletion that leads toward global warning.

Mid-Michigan auto dealers don't see a big trend, but they say a few customers are asking about hybrids and many more are in pursuit of higher mileage vehicles.

Kousky says he gets about 30 miles per gallon in the city and 24 on the highway, the reverse of normal stats that give lower mileage for in-city driving.

This is because the brakes help charge the battery in stop-and-go traffic, whereas it's still 'all gas' on the interstate.

"For me, it was more of an emotional than an economical decision," says Kousky, noting that he shelled out more than $30,000 for the spanking new vehicle at Draper Toyota.

"I love the concept of what hybrids are trying to accomplish, and as the manufacturers sell more, they will get better."

"Economically, it was pretty much a break-even deal. I paid quite a premium to get the hybrid, but then received a $2,000 tax credit, even though it is 100 percent made in Japan. The U.S. manufacturers have a long way to go to catch up."

Tad Veremis, a sales manager for Martin Chevrolet, disagrees that the American automakers are behind.

"If you're talking  'green', I'm proud of what I sell. General Motors is leading the country in flex-fuel technology and in producing grain cars," Veremis says, referring to ethanol 85, produced with corn.

He also describes a technology in which a vehicle shuts off half of its cylinders during stretches when less power is needed.

"The vehicle does it by itself, and the driver doesn't even feel it. The information shows on the dashboard," Veremis says.

GM this fall is introducing hybrids with mid-size Malubus and Tahoe SUVs, he says.
A few customers ask about hybrids, he notes, but far more simply want higher mileage as gas prices continue to hover at more than $3 per gallon.

"More people are looking for second cars that they can drive in town," Veremis says.  "They will keep their campers for when they go out into the woods, but they want more fuel-efficient cars for work and business."

Hybrid vehicles first became available in 2000 with the Honda Insight. Next came the Toyota Prius in 2001, which has become the most popular hybrid in America. The debut among slower-to-the-trend American manufacturers was General Motors' Silverado and Sierra in 2004.

The trend today has hit a hallmark, but it isn't much of a hallmark. Statistics indicate that about 2 percent of sales are for hybrids. The remaining 98 percent are for our traditional gas-guzzlers.

Customers such as Ken Kousky may shop not only for a Toyota Highlander hybrid, but also for a Ford Accord or Escape, a Mazda Tribute, a Mercury Marina, a Nissan Ultima, a Saturn Aura, or a Lexus Rx. On your Internet on Google, you may wish to hunt for

Kousky and his wife, sometimes with their two grown children, are among those who head for the woods.

"I wanted the benefits of an SUV, sort of like a mini SUV," he explains.  "I love the car, and I feel I am doing what is right."

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