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Some dealers may add thousands to price of new electric cars

When the first Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf electric vehicles finally trickle into area dealerships early next year, consumer interest is expected to be strong.

It will also be interesting to see whether some dealers try to capitalize on small supplies and strong demand by adding thousands of dollars to the prices.

With dealerships nationwide beginning to book orders for electric vehicles, there have been scattered reports of dealerships telling consumers that the selling price will be thousands more than the manufacturers' suggested retail price.

In one case, a California Chevy dealer told Volt buyers that they would have to pay a $20,000 markup, Edmunds.com recently reported.

"If the demand for the car exceeds the supply, you always see dealers that will not hesitate to mark it up," said John O'Dell, senior editor for Edmunds and author of its GreenCarAdvisor site.

If the electric vehicles are in demand at all -- as dealers expect -- the opportunities for charging premium prices will be great because few cars will be available.

General Motors has already upped its first-year production plan from 30,000 vehicles to 45,000, but that's still only a handful for each dealership. Nissan has said it will initially produce only about 50,000 Leafs a year.

"On the one hand, it's hard to fault the dealer," said O'Dell, because dealers often have to drastically cut prices and profits to get smart consumers to buy slow-selling vehicles.

Going green already carries a premium price.

The Volt has been priced at $41,000, and the Leaf starts at $32,780, although both cars qualify for federal tax credits of up to $8,500.

Both Chevrolet and Nissan have said they have tens of thousands of orders or people in line to place orders.

Classic Chevrolet in Grapevine, the nation's largest Chevy dealer, is allotted only 12 Volts for the 2011 model year. In a recent Facebook posting, it pledged not to charge more than sticker price.

"You could probably get twice that from some people," said Hagen Durant, general manager of the dealership, who said he expects to have no trouble selling the vehicles. "We could probably sell a lot more than 12."

One the most recent examples of dealers charging premium prices was with the introduction last year of the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro, which until recently was in tight supply.

Durant said the dealership pre-sold nearly 200 Camaros, many of them to buyers from outside the area, because it charged the MSRP.

Jerry's Chevrolet in Weatherford expects to get its first Volt "in March, at the earliest," said Jason Johnson, Internet sales manager, and only four for the 2011 model year. "We've already sold two," he said.

Johnson said the dealership won't charge a premium over the sticker price.

"Could we gouge our customers? Sure. But for us it doesn't make sense to do that," he said. "We want them long-term."

The national dealership group AutoNation will also not charge more than sticker price for the new electric cars, said Marc Cannon, senior vice president of corporate communications.

"We have told our dealers specifically that our policy is not to mark up over MSRP," Cannon said. "We need to do the right thing."

AutoNation has two Chevrolet and five Nissan dealerships in the Metroplex and 32 Chevy and 27 Nissan dealerships nationwide.

Dealers will still be able to sell add-on options, insurance and extended warranties at their normal markups, Cannon said.

Several other Metroplex Chevy and Nissan dealers did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

Bob Cox, 817-390-7723

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