Hybrid gas-electric car makes its first appearance in Kitsap

"Toyota's Prius, its manufacturers believe, represents the future of the automobile industry - both in terms of the kind of vehicle it is and the way in which it is sold.Within just a few years, I think the majority of cars will be sold on-line, said Joe Matucci, a sales representative at Bremerton's Heartland Toyota. They just did it this way with the Prius because there aren't many of them, but I think you'll see more of it.There aren't many of them - in fact, the very first Kitsap County customer picked hers up last week - because the Prius is a hybrid, powered by a combination of gas and electrical power. It's not exactly a new technology, Matucci said. There's 35,000 of these cars on the road in Japan, but they're new to the American market.The only other gas-electric hybrid currently produced by a major manufacturer is Honda's Insight.Matucci said there are 3,000 Prias presently on the ground in Portland, but they aren't being shipped to dealers until orders are received. We've had a demonstration model here for months, to show people what it looks like and how it works, Matucci said.A Bainbridge Island buyer plunked down the $20,450 retail price of the car and ordered it from Heartland the first day it was available to domestic buyers in June. It was her vehicle that arrived last week. Heartland has a total of five other Prias on order, including one for a Port Orchard buyer.Currently, the delivery time is two to three months from the time the vehicle is ordered until it shows up at the dealership.The Prius, Matucci explained, starts up and runs like a standard gasoline-powered vehicle but switches over to battery power once it reaches cruising speed. The changeover is automatic, and the engine will switch back to gasoline operation when it needs more power.It's a pretty sophisticated piece of machinery, Matucci said. I think the days of the home mechanic working on his own engine will be over once people start driving cars like these.The Prius is rated at 52 miles per gallon for city driving and 45 on the highway. A traditional gas-powered car would get better mileage on the highway, Mattucci said, but Prius' numbers are reversed because the engine requires less power in the city than on the highway, and thus spends more time running on the battery than on gas.The batteries are entirely self-charging and require little maintenance. We take people out and teach them all about the car before it's delivered, Matucci said. It's a lot like a normal car, but there are enough differences that you want to make sure people know what they're doing before they get behind the wheel. "

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