At least one East Coast stereotype about California may be on the mark: we love our hybrid cars — especially the Prius.
The Prius is gaining elsewhere in the United States as well. But it is far less popular, ranking No. 14 nationally in 2012. More than a quarter of U.S. Prius sales are in California.
While electric vehicles and hybrids such as the Prius still account for only a small fraction of overall sales — 7.5 percent in California and 3 percent nationally — they have made their mark on the auto retail business: Other auto makers are scrambling to replicate Toyota’s success. And sales people must learn new technology to keep up with buyers who are well-versed in gas-electric hybrid engines.
Most consumers today know what they want when they arrive at any dealership. Hybrid buyers are especially likely to have thoroughly researched their intended purchase.
“It’s a pretty easy sell,” said Steve Maita, general manager of Maita Toyota.
Rene Larsen, Folsom Lake Ford’s internet director and the dealership’s resident expert on hybrids, said sales people have to know a lot more about each vehicle line than ever before. Ford makes hybrid models of its Fusion sedan and last year introduced its C-Max hybrid in the United States.
The Folsom Lake Ford sales staff also encourages customers to compare by driving Prius and one of Ford’s vehicles, Larsen said. The dealership says its cars provide a quieter ride with similar gas mileage.
“In the past you could say, ‘This is the right car for you’ and they’d say, ‘OK,’ ” he said. Now “if you don’t know your product, you could find yourself in trouble. They test us all the time.”