Sun | Mar 24, 2019

Hybrids a hard sell

Published:Sunday | January 5, 2014 | 12:00 AM
The Toyota Prius
Tracy-Ann Fletcher, assistant marketing manager at Toyota Jamaica
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Sheldon Williams, Sunday Gleaner Writer

Hybrid vehicles are slowly but steadily being introduced to car lots and showrooms in Jamaica, but dealers who stock them say they are a hard sell.

The hybrid technology provides two driving mechanisms to operate the vehicle. One is electric, while the other is the traditional fossil fuel.

New-car dealer Toyota Jamaica offers hybrid vehicles.

"Hybrid technology, basically, is a regular car that has a regular gasoline engine, for the ones that we carry, and then it also has an electric motor and the electric motor runs on a separate battery. So the car has a regular battery and another battery that operates the electric motor. At a very low revolutions per minute (rpm), the car runs off the electric motor. You get better mileage, because it is not all the while that the car runs on gas," Tracy-Ann Fletcher, assistant marketing manager at Toyota Jamaica, explained.

She further explained: "Sometimes they do work in synergy, like when you are going up a hill. The concept behind it is that a regular engine has its downfalls and limitations, so what they do is put the electric motor in there to assist it."

Fletcher told Automotives that Toyota Jamaica's hybrid sales have been sluggish.

"It's been slow. It has not really been as popular as we thought it would have been. It is taking some time for persons to get used to. A lot of people don't understand hybrid technology and they are afraid of it. But we hope that over time, and with more advertising in educating the public, they will realise the benefits," she said.

Therefore, Toyota Jamaica only offers hybrid vehicles on pre-order. "They don't move as quickly as our other vehicles, so we don't want to keep anything in stock that won't move. We don't want the vehicles to be sitting here for any period of time. But if you want one, you can come in and we will order for you. It takes three to four months to get here," Fletcher said.

Another factor contributing to poor sales is the misconception that all hybrid cars have to be charged at an outlet.

"A lot of persons believe that our hybrid models have to be plugged in. We don't have plug-ins. Because of that, persons tend to shy away from it, because they start thinking of where they would plug it in and the cost to charge it. But the vehicle actually operates on its own. It recharges its battery while driving - depending on the RPM you are at, it will recharge itself. If you are in constant traffic, once you press the brake, it recharges itself. But as I said earlier, it all goes back to sensitising the public," Fletcher said.

There was a testing process before Toyota Jamaica introduced hybrids, as one was brought imported in 2008. "We had to drive it and test it on the market, go to different locations and drive it on different road surfaces to see how it would stand up to the Jamaican market, but we officially started selling them in 2010," Fletcher said.

Since then, Toyota has sold about 10 hybrid vehicles. "That's a mixture of Prius and Camry hybrids," Fletcher said.

While there are other Toyota hybrid vehicles, Fletcher says there is a special process to accessing vehicles through Toyota Jamaica.

"The approval has to come from Japan. We can't just see a vehicle and order. We have to go through a process and they have to ensure that the vehicles that are being sent to Jamaica are compatible with our roads and weather conditions before permission is actually granted for us to bring them in," she said.

Errol Duhaney, managing director of Stepmath Auto, told Automotives that his used-car dealership currently has four hybrids in stock.

"We have two Toyota Harriers and two Toyota Crowns. The models are 2009 and 2010," he said.

Duhaney said he started importing hybrids last January and has since sold four - different from the four currently in stock. He decided to take the risk after making some enquiries.

"I did my investigation and I realised that some people were taking to it," Duhaney said.

While the hybrid is a bit more expensive to purchase, there is some compensation on the duty.

"The hybrid is a little bit more expensive to buy, but it is cheaper on the duty, so it comes out a little better. So even if you pay 10 per cent more for the car you will pay 30 per cent less for the duty, so it comes out a little less," Duhaney explained.

Duhaney also lauded the fuel consumption of hybrid cars. "A regular Toyota Camry does 30 miles per gallon, but a Toyota Camry Hybrid does approximately 42. Plus, you are doing something for the economy and the environment," he said.

He reiterated that customer feedback has been favourable. "The few we have sold, customers have been very pleased," Duhaney said. Still, he conceded, many potential purchasers are sceptical.

Hybrid vehicles are slowly but steadily being introduced to car lots and showrooms in Jamaica, but dealers who stock them say they are a hard sell.

The hybrid technology provides two driving mechanisms to operate the vehicle. One is electric, while the other is the traditional fossil fuel.

New-car dealer Toyota Jamaica offers hybrid vehicles.

"Hybrid technology, basically, is a regular car that has a regular gasoline engine, for the ones that we carry, and then it also has an electric motor and the electric motor runs on a separate battery. So the car has a regular battery and another battery that operates the electric motor. At a very low revolutions per minute (rpm), the car runs off the electric motor. You get better mileage, because it is not all the while that the car runs on gas," Tracy-Ann Fletcher, assistant marketing manager at Toyota Jamaica, explained.

She further explained: "Sometimes they do work in synergy, like when you are going up a hill. The concept behind it is that a regular engine has its downfalls and limitations, so what they do is put the electric motor in there to assist it."

Fletcher told Automotives that Toyota Jamaica's hybrid sales have been sluggish.

"It's been slow. It has not really been as popular as we thought it would have been. It is taking some time for persons to get used to. A lot of people don't understand hybrid technology and they are afraid of it. But we hope that over time, and with more advertising in educating the public, they will realise the benefits," she said.

PRE-ORDER OPTION

Therefore, Toyota Jamaica only offers hybrid vehicles on pre-order. "They don't move as quickly as our other vehicles, so we don't want to keep anything in stock that won't move. We don't want the vehicles to be sitting here for any period of time, but if you want one, you can come in and we will order for you. It takes three to four months to get here," Fletcher said.

Another factor contributing to poor sales is the misconception that all hybrid cars have to be charged at an outlet.

"A lot of persons believe that our hybrid models have to be plugged in. We don't have plug-ins. Because of that, persons tend to shy away from it, because they start thinking of where they would plug it in and the cost to charge it. But the vehicle actually operates on its own. It recharges its battery while driving - depending on the RPM you are at, it will recharge itself. If you are in constant traffic, once you press the brake, it recharges itself. But as I said earlier, it all goes back to sensitising the public," Fletcher said.

There was a testing process before Toyota Jamaica introduced hybrids, as one was imported in 2008. "We had to drive it and test it on the market, go to different locations and drive it on different road surfaces to see how it would stand up to the Jamaican market, but we officially started selling them in 2010," Fletcher said.

Since then, Toyota has sold about 10 hybrid vehicles. "That's a mixture of Prius and Camry hybrids," Fletcher said.

SPECIAL PROCESS

While there are other Toyota hybrid vehicles, Fletcher says there is a special process to accessing vehicles through Toyota Jamaica.

"The approval has to come from Japan. We can't just see a vehicle and order. We have to go through a process and they have to ensure that the vehicles that are being sent to Jamaica are compatible with our roads and weather conditions before permission is actually granted for us to bring them in," she said.

Errol Duhaney, managing director of Stepmath Auto, told Automotives that his used-car dealership currently has four hybrids in stock.

"We have two Toyota Harriers and two Toyota Crowns. The models are 2009 and 2010," he said.

Duhaney said he started importing hybrids last January and has since sold four - different from the four currently in stock. He decided to take the risk after making some enquiries.

"I did my investigation and I realised that some people were taking to it," Duhaney said.

While the hybrid is a bit more expensive to purchase, there is some compensation on the duty.

"The hybrid is a little bit more expensive to buy, but it is cheaper on the duty, so it comes out a little better. So even if you pay 10 per cent more for the car, you will pay 30 per cent less for the duty, so it comes out a little less," Duhaney explained.

Duhaney also lauded the fuel consumption of hybrid cars. "A regular Toyota Camry does 30 miles per gallon, but a Toyota Camry Hybrid does approximately 42. Plus, you are doing something for the economy and the environment," he said.

He reiterated that customer feedback has been favourable. "The few we have sold, customers have been very pleased," Duhaney said. Still, he conceded, many potential purchasers are sceptical.