Hybrid Car Sales UP 3 8 6pm

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COLUMBIA - As gas prices continue to rise Tuesday, more businesses feel the pressure of the pump. While people might think the car industry would be the hardest hit, that's not the case. Car sales are actually up, across Columbia and the nation -- but not sales of gas guzzlers.

Columbia dealers say customers are not avoiding buying cars, like they did during the oil price hikes of 2006 and 2008, but making different choices. Customers are demanding hybrids - not because they are "green," but because they get the best gas mileage.

Joe Machens Toyota cannot keep enough Priuses on the lot. In just one day, Joe Machens sold six Priuses. Priuses average more than 50 miles per gallon. Machens tries to keep at least 15 to 20 Priuses on the lot. Right now, they only have three.

"It's the number one car people are looking at on our website," salesman Dean Hovis said.

After record months in January and February, Hovis only expects Prius sales to increase.

"I think [people] are just tired of waiting, and wanting to get into a different vehicle - I can't say I blame them," Hovis said.

Kay Martinez of Columbia says she sacrificed comfort for fuel efficiency. Instead of going with a larger SUV, Martinez chose the Prius, hoping it will outlast the gas guzzler she bought eight years ago.

"It's almost like getting married" Martinez said. "You're making the choice for a long time."

The number of people leasing is also up, Frank Fletcher Honda sales manager Eric Cronacher said.

"A lot of people are getting a second, or third car - parking their car that gets worse gas mileage and then driving the car that gets excellent gas mileage," Cronacher said.

Gas prices going up can be a good thing, too - especially for those looking to buy or lease fuel efficient cars.

"When you've got gas going for $2.39 to where it's projected to be close to $5, that's a lot of money not over the short term, but over the long term of owning a vehicle" Cronacher said.

If the hybrid craze continues, Hovis expects another trend to make a comeback - the hybrid waiting list.

"People might be waiting six to eight months for a Prius," Hovis said.