MERCED — Filling up the gas tank is a little less painful after Merced's gasoline prices dropped 14 cents from last month and 5 cents from last week.
The average price of regular gasoline in Merced was $3.94 per gallon Wednesday, down from $4.08 last month, AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge report said. Prices lingered at the $4 mark last week, averaging $3.99 a gallon, the report showed.
Cynthia Harris, AAA senior spokeswoman, said falling crude oil prices as well as a crisis-free period at regional refineries contributed to the drop.
The price for a barrel of crude oil was about $90.12 in March, compared with $100 per barrel in January, she said. The refineries are picking up the oil at a lower price.
And Harris said people are driving less and shopping around a lot more.
"Consumers are using less gas than last year," she said. "People are being a lot more diligent about how they spend their money on gas."
But we haven't yet approached the summer driving period, Harris said, and that can send gas prices back up. The summer months bring more hours of daylight, vacations and weekend trips, which can cause spikes in gas prices.
In California, the average cost for a gallon of regular gasoline was $4 Wednesday, down 4 cents from last week and down 17 cents from a month ago. The national average was $3.57 Wednesday, down 7 cents from a week earlier and down 12 cents from a month ago.
Fluctuating gas prices over the past year have caused many people to look into alternative modes of transportation, Harris noted.
"There's been a big push toward buying electrical and hybrid vehicles," she said. "They have improved over the last 10 years, and they're cheaper."
Lance Hughes, sales manager at Razzari Ford in Merced, said sales of hybrid cars have risen dramatically in the past year.
The dealership sold one or two hybrid cars last year, and now they sell an average of about five each month, he said. About half of the dealership's orders are hybrid cars.
"People are still convinced that gas prices might go up to $5 gallon and stay there," Hughes said. "So we have people coming in and wanting something that gets 40 miles per gallon or better so they're going for the hybrids."
The Fusion Hybrid gets about 47 miles per gallon, as opposed to 26 miles per gallon for a conventional Fusion.
Hughes said the dealership has received numerous requests for electric cars, and three models are on their way. "We are very excited for the electric vehicles to show up," he said. "They'll be here very soon, along with our charging stations."
The electric cars should arrive in a month or two, Hughes said.
Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.