The 2011 Toyota Prius has been a big-seller so far this year. Sales are up 51.5 percent in the first three months of 2011.
Rising gas prices will put the quintessential hybrid in even greater demand. Since the end of March, the national average price at the pump jumped from $3.53 a gallon to $3.87. It could be a matter of weeks before the national average crosses $4. (It’s already $4.21 on average in California.)
Just as consumers start making a mad dash to a Toyota dealership to buy a Prius, the available inventory of new models is shrinking—due to supply disruptions caused by the March earthquake in Japan. Automakers say their Japanese plants are operating at only 50 percent of usual capacity.
This means high demand and low supply. The Wall Street Journal reported that most of the cars heading to dealers “are spoken for and those that aren’t are often snapped up as soon as they arrive at dealerships.” Dealerships that usually stock about 30 Priuses are now suddenly reduced to a handful of new models, and one or two used cars. Trim packages and color choices are limited.
The result is a return of waiting lists for the 50-mpg Prius, and car buyers scrambling over to the used lot to see what’s available. The extra demand for used Priuses has bumped the average price of a pre-owned Prius from $16,883 in January to $19,376 today, according to TrueCar.com.
The vicissitudes of supply, demand, and gas prices can result in higher or lower Prius values for any brief period of time, but the larger trends were established well before the current run on gas prices. Jonathan Banks, executive auto analyst for the NADA used car guide, said that used Priuses have gained 38 percent in value from 2006 to 2009.