High gas prices not stalling Kauaians’ truck, SUV buys

Gas prices at the pump jumped 27 cents during the day yesterday, hitting $3.36 and $3.37 at several gas stations in Lihu‘e and Kapa‘a Tuesday after sitting at $3.09 for several days through the Labor Day weekend.

That probably marks the highest single-day jump in gas prices in Kaua‘i history and, for a time, probably the greatest discrepancy between prices between competitive stations also in island history.

For a period yesterday morning, the price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas (mini-serve) at Hanamaulu Service Center (Shell) was $3.01 (during the four-cents-off Tuesday promotion), and $3.30 at Gary’s Chevron.

The Hanama‘ulu price caused a long line of customers waiting to fill up, while in Puhi, at Stan’s Super Service (another Shell station), patrons probably didn’t know how prophetic their morning jokes about filling up before the prices go up were. At that time, the price of a gallon of regular-unleaded gasoline was $3.07. Later on, they rose above $3.30.

Is this enough to drive Kaua‘i consumers to go out and purchase or trade in for more gas- efficient vehicles?

Apparently not.

“I haven’t noticed any change,” said Carla Matsushima, who observed people are generally creatures of habit.

“People will drive what they want to drive no matter what the gas price.”

When asked how much people will put up with until they make some kind of change, Matsushima said, “maybe when it hits $5 a gallon.”

David Hackett, president of Stillwater Associates LLC, a fuel- and gasoline-industry consultancy whose leaders have worked with officials in state government in studying the gas-cap law, agreed consumers might not make any drastic changes till the price at the pump ranges from $5 to $6, as it does in tax-heavy Europe where people cope by driving smaller cars and utilizing bicycles more.

“People have a hard time changing their patterns,” he said.

Shirley Fujimura, officer manager of Kauai Toyota, said she had not seen any dramatic changes, either.

She said Kauai Toyota sales-people had a very good month for sales of the Tundra, their V8 truck, as well as their Tacoma truck.

Fujimura said sales of the Prius, Toyota’s popular, hybrid, electric-gas vehicle, remained consistent, with only a three-month waiting period for the vehicle. She said Toyota leaders are introducing a hybrid High-lander SUV, which will be available next year.

“People will buy what they want to drive. Gas prices are just part of the deal, said Jose Aguayo, general manager of King Auto Center.

“I thought we might see some changes, but due to incentives, it’s a good time to buy a truck or SUV,” he said.

Aguayo pointed out that a lot of contractors and laborers busy with various island projects need trucks.

Aguayo said sales of Honda’s two hybrids, the Civic and Accord, “might have gone up a little bit, but basically you have two different (types) of buyers.”

Under the price-cap formula created by members of the state Legislature and implemented by members of the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) effective Thursday, Sept. 1, the wholesale gas price cap for Kaua‘i for a gallon of unleaded regular gasoline was set at $2.56, some 34 cents higher than the PUC’s initial pricing last week, and 27 cents higher than set by PUC members in their amended prices good from Thursday, Sept. 1, through Sunday, Sept. 4.

That 27 cents was reflected in Tuesday’s prices, and one day after state Rep. Marcus Oshiro, D-O‘ahu, cited Auto-mobile Association of America gas prices as of Monday ranking Hawai‘i as 35th in the nation, when the state’s average gas price was $3.01 for regular unleaded.

“For the first time in many years, if not decades, Hawai‘i’s gas prices are tracking lower than other Mainland locations,” Oshiro said yesterday.

“This indicates that Hawai‘i’s fair-gas-price law is working, and other states are looking at Hawai‘i’s price cap as a model.”

Jeff Guest, owner of the Princeville Chevron station and a jobber impacted by the wholesale cap, said Oshiro was being disingenuous.

“They are putting a political spin on it, and not telling the truth. He should know the next day the gas prices were going to go up,” said Guest, who also said he’d never heard of the “fair-gas-price law.”

“This is a law that was never voted on by the people,” he said.

Guest said he thought consumers did not understand that the cap applied only to wholesalers and not to retailers, who were simply passing higher prices on to maintain a few cents profit margin at the pump.

Hackett said he did not know what the maximum pretax wholesale prices the state PUC members would announce today, Wednesday, Sept. 7, for the week of Monday, Sept. 12, to Sunday, Sept. 18, but guessed they “would be high.”

The price-cap formula is pegged to spot prices in Los Angeles, the Gulf Coast, which has been ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, and in New York. Unleaded gas is selling for $3.99 a gallon in New York City.

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