Loans For Hybrid Cars Popular; Unfortunately, So Are Cars

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SESLOC Federal Credit Union is doing its best to prove Kermit the Frog wrong.

The Muppet, who famously sang "It's Not Easy Being Green" for TV and movie audiences, probably would be surprised to see how easy it has been for SESLOC members to "go green" since the CU introduced its special loan package for hybrid gas-electric vehicles in October 2003.

SESLOC members who purchase any of the three gasoline-saving hybrid vehicles currently available (Toyota Prius, Honda Insight or Honda Civic Hybrid) receive a 3.5% APR on up to 100% financing, with the first payment deferred 90 days. The CU's best rate for new, non-hybrid autos is 3.75%.

Carla Swift, SESLOC's marketing director, said the $325.4-million, 27,000-member credit union already has extended the offer several times since last fall.

"People have been flooding in. Every time we think it's going to end, it keeps going," she said. "It currently is set to run through the end of June, but we are toying with the idea of making it a permanent fixture."

According to Swift, SESLOC's location plays a role in the popularity of the green promotion. "We are in such an environmentally sensitive area here. We are by Morro Bay and Pismo Beach, so people are very aware. Plus, Cal Poly University is here, which is a very environmentally conscious campus. We wanted to respond to this desire and need and we were right-people really went for it."

SESLOC created notebooks to introduce hybrid vehicles to members who might not understand how they work. Swift said the CU did research online, printed reviews and photos, and included diagrams of hybrid technology (the gasoline engine runs during acceleration, passing and climbing, but the electric engine takes over when the vehicle is decelerating or idling).

Other promotional items include a travel mug-green, of course-to any member who funded an auto loan during the promotion, and a t-shirt featuring a green tree frog (naturally).

The only problem so far is the popularity of the hybrid cars. In some cases, Swift said, the Toyota Prius is on back order for up to one year.

"The local Honda and Toyota dealers are working with us, but they cannot keep the hybrids on their lots," she said. "When members have to wait several months to receive their cars, we still honor the 90-day deferred payment starting when they take delivery."

Purchasers of hybrid vehicles currently receive a $1,500 tax credit. Swift said the credit is scheduled to drop to $1,000 in 2005 and $500 in 2006, but the CU hopes the IRS will reconsider.

Several automakers have plans to introduce hybrid vehicles in the next two years, including Lexus, Ford, Chevy, Dodge and Saturn.

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