Civics add to hybrids' appeal

“It looks like a regular car.”

These words from Greenbank resident Vern Olsen don’t exactly ooze excitement, but to the Honda automobile company, they’re probably sweet-sounding indeed.

Olsen was talking about his new Honda Civic Hybrid, which is powered by both an electric motor and regular gas engine. He and a few other islanders are pioneers in purchasing what may be the cars of the future.

The hybrids are selling to people who want to help the environment and save some money for themselves, according to Bobby Maynard, new car manager for Sims Honda in Burlington. They produce far less emissions than a regular car and get far better mileage.

“I got one on the lot that just got off the truck yesterday,” Maynard said Thursday. He figured it would be gone by Friday. The Civic hybrids cost about $25,000.

“We could sell every one they give us,” Maynard said. “But the supply’s not very good.” Since the Civic Hybrid debuted locally in April, Maynard said his dealership has only had one or two a month to sell.

Maynard attributes the Civic’s popularity to the fact it’s a regular-sized, four-door model. “It appeals a lot more to families,” he said.

That’s exactly why Martha Olsen preferred the Honda Civic to the smaller Toyota Prius, according to Vern. “My wife wouldn’t buy a Prius,” he said. “It didn’t look like a regular car.”

Maynard concurs with Mrs. Olsen’s reasoning. “Our hybrid looks like a Civic, not some space age thing,” he said, referring to the Prius.

Prius has built up a following on Whidbey Island, however. In September 2002 Clinton resident Dave Anderson, a former state representative, purchased one of the first hybrid Toyota Priuses on the island. Since then a Prius club has formed which occasionally holds a Prius gathering so the public can check out the hybrids. Olsen got interested in hybrids because he read about Anderson’s purchase of a Prius.

One day last week Olsen visited Oak Harbor and enjoyed stopping at the stoplights. Hybrids shift into all-electric mode when stopped, and emissions are zero. A computer decides when to switch; when more power is needed, the gas engine soundlessly kicks in.

The interior of the Civic looks as regular as the exterior. No large numbers on the dash flashing the current mileage, as with the Prius. The Civic’s speedometer goes up to 120 miles per hour, so it apparently has some juice under the hood. But Olsen said he wouldn’t know about that. “I haven’t had it over 70 yet,” said the retired teacher and local musician.

Olsen also had foreign policy on his mind when he bought a hybrid. “If we all cut our mileage 10 miles per gallon we could forget about buying gas from the Middle East,” he said. His Civic Hybrid, like the Prius, is expected to average about 50 miles per gallon. Sims Honda’s Maynard said a regular Civic gets about 35 mpg.

If hybrid owners pocket the gas savings, they can more than afford to buy a new battery. The Civic has an 8-year or 100,000 mile warranty on its battery, and Maynard said replacement cost is about $1,500.

Before the hybrid Civic came along, Honda manufactured only the two-seater Insight in gas-electric. Hybrids now appear to be here to stay as manufacturers strive to meet tightening emission standards in the U.S.

Manyard said a hybrid Honda Accura, a larger, more luxurious car, is now in production, and plans are even in the works for a hybrid Accura NSX. That will be the world’s first 400-horsepower hybrid, which will probably attract a different set of buyers than those who just want a “regular car.”

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