It’s been three months since the devastating earthquake and Tsunami in Japan, and Toyota claims it will soon be back to 90% production levels on Japanese-made vehicles.    The problem is it takes 6-8 weeks to build and ship a Prius, so there is a hole in the pipeline for delivery.

What’s showing up at ports today are cars that were built (or not built) 2 months ago.   Dealerships that would normally be getting 80 new cars per month are getting 10 or so.

Combine the supply shortage with the increased demand for the fuel efficient Prius and you have a very tight market in the San Francisco Bay Area for purchase of a new 2011 Prius.

It’s taken a few months to work through the inventory that was on dealers’ lots.  Now, many dealers have few if any Prius in stock, with few in the pipeline for the near future.

As a result, many dealers have started adding leather and other accessories to their cars in order to maximize profit on the limited number of cars they have.    Base model Package II is especially rare, and most Prius will sell for $25K and up, with markups of $3K or more for “added leather” not uncommon.

Soon even these cars will be snapped up, and your only way of getting a new Prius will be to get on a waiting list or put a deposit on one of the few incoming ones.

The good news for buyers is that this situation is temporary.  It looks as if the price of gas may have already peaked above $4/gallon and has eased somewhat, as it usually does after Memorial Day.  Production in Japan continues to increase and will get back to normal soon.    If you need to buy a Prius in Northern CA in the next month or two, expect to pay top dollar and have limited choices.  But if you can wait until Fall, the situation should start to improve.