Faced with surging gasoline prices, a growing number of car-crazy Californians are ditching gas-guzzlers for hybrids and avoiding the road in a state known for its traffic jams and scenic routes.
Like many Americans, Jorge Montijo and his wife once had two cars in their Los Angeles garage.
AdvertisementBut with gas prices between 3.8 dollars and 4.3 dollars a gallon -- four times the cost a few years ago -- the environmentally-conscious couple recently sold their two vehicles and replaced them with one hybrid car in February.
In addition to fuel costs, the pair had to worry about paying for parking and car insurance.
"Frankly, gas prices are ridiculous. I remember paying a buck for gas not so long ago. It's four times that right now. I don't even know how people with large cars are coping," Montijo, a television and film sound editor, told AFP.
Montijo now uses the metro to go to work while his wife drives to her job as a school teacher. They also use the car in the evenings and weekends, but they have reduce the amount of times they go out to parks, restaurants or concerts.
"We are saving at least a couple hundred dollars a month," he said. "Since we've reduced the impact of gas prices in our regular everyday lives, we aren't holding back from buying other things we'd normally buy."
Melvin Cortez, 34, spends 378 dollars a month in gasoline driving 131 kilometers (82 miles) from his home in Long Beach to his teaching job at a school in La Puente, a Los Angeles suburb.
"My life has been altered further since gas prices are increasing. I now have to work longer hours to make extra money," he said.
"In addition, I also spend a little less on myself when I shop and I go out a little bit less too," he said, voicing a concern of many Americans also worried about the rising costs of food and basic services.
"Now, I rather go to the gym during that time so I can burn calories instead of spending money at (bar) happy hours or burning gas during traffic time."
Car salesmen report a drop in sales of vans and other eight-cylinder vehicles have dropped.
"Until two years ago we were selling between 300 and 350 vehicles a month, now it's 200 to 250 a month," said Roger Cowan, general sales manager of the Community Chevrolet Dealer in Burbank.
Sales of smaller, four- and six-cylinder cars have risen while sales of sport-utility vehicles and trucks have dropped by 25 to 35 percent, Cowan said.
"I wouldn't say people are selling us their SUVs, but they're not buying as many SUVs and trucks as they were, say, two years ago, or even a year ago," he said.
Interest in hybrids is likely linked to economic reasons rather than concern about the environment, Cowan said.
"The celebrities do it because it keeps their names in the news," he said, "but the average Joe in the street will buy one because it saves them money on gas."