Jim Motavalli is the author of Forward Drive: The Race to Build Clean Cars for the Future, among other books. He has been covering the environmental side of the auto industry for more than a decade, and writes regularly on those topics for the New York Times.
Price gouging on hot cars is a sleazy practice, and few dealers will admit they do it. But when short supply meets high demand, as it has with the new green cars, the market can and will push prices up. The Japanese tsunami and earthquake have aggravated the situation, and anyone who actually has cars to sell holds all the cards.
If you think the $41,000 MSRP is too much to pay for the Chevy Volt, how would you like to pay $61,000? That’s the jacked-up price a Los Angeles-area dealer is charging for GM’s first plug-in hybrid. And reports of a $55,000 Nissan Leaf are not apocryphal — that’s how much a consumer recently asked for his car on eBay. Some desperate buyers are offering to pay $70,000 for the Leaf.
In fact, it takes ingenuity for dealers to price-gouge on the Nissan Leaf, because the online ordering system puts buyers in line for cars, and not many are up for grabs on the lots. But the tsunami has made Leafs exceedingly scarce, and that creates an opportunity for some dealers to profit (sometimes by buying used vehicles on the open market). And some first-in-line customers are reselling their hot cars at what-the-market-will-bear prices.