California dealers jacking up prices for scarce hybrids

Californians may find themselves paying up to $4,000 over the manufacturer’s suggested retail price for a gas-electric Toyota Prius — if they can get their hands on one at all. Folks hankering for a Honda Civic or Insight hybrid also face dealer premiums and lean supply. Thanks to soaring gas costs and a new state law allowing the three hybrid models into highway carpool lanes with only a driver present, demand for these models has shot up. Dealers are taking advantage by jacking up the prices. Interested buyers who don’t want to pay extra can get on a waiting list — up to four months long, according to some sellers. State officials have been trying to quell a rumor that there’s a shortage of the special carpool-lane stickers for qualifying hybrids, a scare that’s helping dealers hike charges for the cars. Seventy-five thousand stickers were authorized by the recent legislation, and that’s more than the total number of hybrids in California to date.