Kirkland car dealers not feeling the bite ... yet

Rising gas prices haven't made much of an impact on what kind of car or truck people are buying, according to a random survey of car dealers in Kirkland.

"I haven't noticed any (difference) yet," said Scott Thompson, general sales manager at Lee Johnson Chevrolet-Mazda. That applies to people trading in their old gas guzzlers for smaller vehicles, and to sales of both cars and SUVs, he said.

But Thompson thinks the General Motors employee-discount promotion is countering the increase in gas prices.

Shawn Rahimzadeh, general sales manager at Toyota of Kirkland, hasn't noticed much change in buying patterns, either. "The majority of my deals are for small trucks and SUVs," he said.

Trade-ins are a different matter. "Most of my customers are loyal Toyota customers, but yeah, they're bringing in Ford trucks and Expeditions," Rahimzadeh said. "It's been happening since the beginning of this year and the end of last year."

Toyota has two gas-electric hybrid vehicles, and some buyers are tree-hugger types, he said. "And there are some people thinking they'll save money in the long run (on gas)."

Rahimzadeh added that his customers are very intelligent and have figured out that a Toyota Corolla gets 30 miles to the gallon and costs thousands less than the hybrids. So many are buying the hybrids because it's the environmental thing to do, he said.

Those customers are also patient. There's a six-month wait to buy a hybrid, Rahimzadeh said.

Employee-discount pricing also seems to be offsetting spiking gas prices at Ford of Kirkland, according to general manager Mark Harper.

"That said, a lot of people are getting rid of old technology," he said of older vehicles that don't get as good a gas mileage as newer models do. But they aren't trading in larger models for smaller vehicles, Harper added.

The dealership sells a lot of Expeditions and F-10 trucks that can haul around boats or trailers, and Harper believes those sales are tied into a choice of lifestyle.

But a lifestyle also involves sales of a Ford hybrid SUV, he said. "They're getting really popular." Harper also said Ford is doing research on hydrogen fuel systems for vehicles, along with ones that use biodiesel.

Cars that run on biodiesel are a hot seller at the Green Car Company, according to company founder Susan Fahnestock. "The one we sell the most of is the Volkswagen diesel," she said.

Biodiesel fuel, which is made of soy oil, can be used in diesel cars without adapting the engines, Fahnestock explained. She also said the Rudolf Diesel, inventor of the engine, originally intended it to be run on peanut oil.

The company also sells electric-gas hybrid cars, along with electric cars and bikes. "We're trying to stay on top of any alternative vehicles," she said.

But Fahnestock does have her own preferences. "Our stance right now is biodiesel is a greener choice than hybrids." But she's convinced a biodiesel and electric hybrid could get 100 miles to the gallon.

She's heard of research being done on hydrogen fuel, but isn't sure it will ever get beyond the theoretical. "I just don't know if that's the route to go." Fahnestock applauds the effort, though. "Biodiesel isn't going to be the only solution," she said.

"Our sales have been going crazy," Fahnestock added. But it's hard to say whether sales have gone up because gas prices have gone up, she added.[[In-content Ad]]