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Wait time for Prius buyers diminishing

Shortage of popular gas-electric cars eases while demand cools, report says.

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The Prius shortage may be ending, according to a report published Monday

Don't expect to run to your local dealership and find one of the popular hybrid cars just waiting for you, though.

Gallery: Extreme 'green' cars of the future

Until recently, car buyers shopping for a new Toyota Prius were told they had to wait months before taking delivery of their new car.

Just last last spring, the market for new Toyota Priuses was so tight that low-mileage used Priuses were selling at prices above the manufacturer's suggested price for a new one.

Production of the popular gas-electric hybrid manufactured by Toyota has begun to catch up with buyer demand for the first time since the car went on sale in October 2003, USA Today reported.

The average Prius now sits on a dealer lot for a bit less than 20 days before being driven away by a new owner, according to Toyota's estimates.

Power Information Networks, a division of J.D. Power and Assoc., estimates the average "days to turn" for the Prius at seven days, however, analyst Tom Libby told CNNMoney. That's within the historical range for the Prius, he said.

A low "days to turn" number generally indicates that there are waiting lists for the vehicle. The "days to turn" for the average car is about 64, so a new Prius is still far harder to come by than the average vehicle.

Waiting lists for the Prius still stand at about 45 to 60 days, according to Toyota.

Sales of the Prius are beginning to soften, however. U.S. Prius sales tumbled 12 percent in October, according to the Power Informantion Network. Sales are down 1.4 percent for the year.

Reduced federal tax credits could be part of the reason behind the slowing demand. Tax credits for purchases of fuel-efficient vehicles begin to phase out for a given vehicle manufacturer once that company sells 60,000 eligible vehicles.

Toyota reached that mark in May, 2006, so the tax credit for Toyota hybrid vehicles began to diminish after September. Before that, the tax credit for a Prius buyer had been $3,150. The credit is currently $1,575 and is set to fall again, in January, to $787.50 before phasing out altogether in April, 2007.

Increased competition has also played a role. Honda offers Civic and Accord hybrid cars and Toyota itself now sells a hybrid version of its popular Camry sedan.

Also, the Prius has simply been available for a long time, said David Lucas, a spokesman for industry analyst AutoData. Over time, demand for any vehicle will wane, but Prius demand has stayed remarkably strong, Lucas told CNNMoney.

Ford sells hybrid versions of its Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner small SUVs. General Motors recently began selling the Saturn Vue Green Line, an SUV with a "mild hybrid" system that allows the gasoline engine to shut off whenever the vehicle is stopped.

DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler division will begin selling its first hybrid vehicle, a version of the Dodge Durango SUV, in 2008.

American car buyers get amnesia

Gas price declines may be over

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