Palomar Transportation in San Diego, Calif., is getting healthy demand for the cost-saving Toyota Prius, now available in a 2012 model with more headroom and legroom.
SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- At Palomar Transportation, the Toyota Prius now comprises almost a third of the 15-vehicle chauffeured fleet. Operator Michael Farrar has bought four of them since July 2011, with two 2012 Toyota Prius V hatchbacks as the most recent additions.
"I had to make a choice, where is my industry taking me?" Farrar told LCT. "Now that Town Cars are not here. . . just in the last two weeks, the fuel [prices] are tough. We could possibly hit $5 a gallon. So far, [the Prius] is a fairly good decision."
The cost of a gallon of premium unleaded fuel in the San Diego area hit $4.59 this week. Most, but not all, clients like the Prius, he said. "The demand is fairly good. We've been taking CEOs [in them]. They know things are changing, especially now."
Once derided as a strange fleet stepchild, the Prius is an established staple of many California-based chauffeured fleets with a loyal and growing client base. Wtih the emergence of the Prius V, tall clients can more comfortably sit in the backseat with the added legroom and headroom, Farrar said.
The 2011 Prius gets close to 50 mpg, while the newer Prius V averages about 42 mpg, Farrar reports. At about $30,000 to $32,000 for a new Prius, the compact saves dramatically on overhead and fuel costs, which can yield a higher profit margin for chauffeured transportation companies. For most San Diego airport runs, Palomar charges $85 for a transfer to the airport; and $95 for a pick-up/return. A Prius run from the San Diego area to LAX, about two hours to the northwest, costs the client $195 plus tip.
Farrar estimates the Prius gets double the fuel savings compared to a Lincoln Town Car sedan while Prius maintenance costs run about 40% less in comparison.
The Toyota Prius so far also has proven durable for repeated runs throughout the day, Farrar said. Palomar is looking for other client avenues for the vehicle in addition to airport service.
"You do have to maintain them by the book, with tire rotation and oil changes," Farrar advises operators. "The tires are important for the hybrid because it’s front wheel drive. Every 5,000 miles you should rotate and balance the tires."
-- Martin Romjue, LCT editor