The ever-rising price of gas was the likely catalyst for a surge in the number of alternative fuel vehicles and compact cars rolling off U.S. car lots last year, but researchers suspect the scarcity of alt-fuel gas stations on the market could hamper eco-friendly vehicles from reaching their full potential.
A new study from automotive researcher R.L. Polk shows that 1.8 million alternative fuel vehicles were sold in 2007, roughly 250,000 more than were sold in 2006. Sales of other vehicles – E85, flex-fuel and hybrid-electric – were also up significantly, while clean diesel sales fell slightly.
"Gas prices, consumer incentives, and the increasing number of (alternative fuel vehicle) models available to consumers continue to play a role in the rising popularity of these vehicles," said Dave McCurdy, president and CEO Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. "And while we’re pleased these vehicles continue to grow in popularity, refueling infrastructure challenges may prevent the promise of these vehicles from being fully realized. For example, out of more than 170,000 refueling stations in the U.S. less than 1,500 offer ethanol."
Vehicle-pricing Web site NADAguides.com also reported that consumer interest in compact cards has increased an average of 96% over the past two months, likely because of high gas prices.
From January to March 2008, interest in the mini-compact car category increased 128%, while interest in the sub-compact category increased 83%. Interest in the plain compact category increased 77%.
Of the top 25 most-researched new cars across the entire NADAguides.com website, five were compact cars, with interest in the 2008 Mazda MAZDA3 increasing 105% and interest in the 2008 Toyota Yaris increasing 102%.
A number of companies have announced plans to expand or introduce new alternative fuel services at gas stations across the country in the coming years, but to date only a small percentage of gas stations actually offer alternative fuels.