Shifting gears

AIKEN --- When gas prices spiraled out of control last summer, Pearl Bledsoe knew something had to change.

"I knew from the beginning that most of my gasoline was being used for short trips around town," she said.

Though the Graniteville resident wasn't driving a gas-guzzling pickup or sport utility vehicle, the frequent fill-ups and gas bills for her Ford Focus were putting a dent in her wallet.

Then Ms. Bledsoe saw an ad for GoGreen, a new dealership in Augusta that sells zero-emission vehicles that run on electricity.

Ms. Bledsoe's little green three-wheeled vehicle isn't very fast -- its top speed is about 40 mph -- and it isn't practical for highways, but she uses it to tool around town.

"I can drive all over Aiken. That's what I really purchased it for," she said.

Next month, GoGreen owner John Cooper is opening a dealership on U.S. Highway 1 in Aiken County. Cars and trucks are already on the lot.

Though Mr. Cooper hasn't sold any vehicles to Augusta residents, he has sold two to people in Aiken County and several to people out of state -- in North Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama.

Gas prices have dropped about $2 since GoGreen opened, but Mr. Cooper said sales have remained steady. He said that in the seven months the Washington Road dealership has been open, there's been no shortage of people coming in to look and test-drive the cars.

Fuel efficiency appears to be on people's minds. At the North American International Auto Show in Detroit last month, Toyota, Honda, Lexus, and Mercedes-Benz were showcasing fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly cars.

In Aiken County, dealers say they have experienced increased demand for fuel-efficient cars in the past year. John Kelly, of Honda Cars of Aiken, said last year the dealership sold about 70 Civic Hybrids, which can get 45 to 50 miles per gallon.

"We find that when gas gets about $2.50 a gallon or more, they sell really well," he said.

Now that gas prices have dropped, Mr. Kelly said, "hybrids are not as hot."

At one time last summer, Bob Richards Toyota in North Augusta ran out of the fuel-efficient Prius -- a hybrid car that averages about 50 miles per gallon, salesman Ken Broughton said, and even the Toyota Camry, which gets about 35 mpg, had a two-month waiting period.

"Gas prices were people's main reason for buying," he said.

Though lower gas prices have slowed demand for the hybrid, Mr. Broughton said, the Prius is still selling. The dealership only has two on the lot.

Reach Michelle Guffey at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or michelle.guffey@augustachronicle.com.

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