Japanese car supply dwindles

Automotive dealers in some parts of the United States are running low on hybrids and other fuel-efficient Japanese cars as rising gas prices and uncertainty about future supplies from factories in quake-shattered Japan have stoked demand.

Concerns already are evident in the biggest U.S. markets for Japanese cars, along the East and West coasts. "I'm getting 30 to 40 requests a day for (Toyota) Priuses," compared with five to 10 a day a month ago, said Dianne Whitmire, fleet director at Carson Toyota in Carson, Calif., near Los Angeles.

She attributes the jump mainly to a spike in fuel prices, to more than $4 a gallon in California, in early March. But since Friday's earthquake, she's hearing from people as far away as northern California and San Diego. "People are scrambling for Priuses."

Most Toyota dealers expect shortages of Priuses and other cars built only in Japan if production stoppages are prolonged.

Japanese automakers have suspended production in Japan for at least part of this week to check on their suppliers after the quake and tsunami.

Although their U.S. factories are running, discounts on several models are dwindling, said Jesse Toprak, an analyst at TrueCar.com in Santa Monica, Calif.

TrueCar's survey of 4,500 dealers found that pricing had firmed for the Prius and Toyota Yaris, and for Honda Motor Co.'s Insight hybrid, Fit and CR-V. Pricing also rose for several of Nissan Motor Co.'s Infiniti models.

Toprak expected the trend to last "for weeks, if not months." Detroit News

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