Of Hybrid Heights And Other Hypes

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt
of hybrid heights and other hypes

An executive of a large carmaker that is very proud of its alternative energy offerings lately sighed into his drink: “If my customers would be anywhere near as interested in green cars as journalists, we would have long ditched the ICE.” I am reminded of that sigh when I read the news today.

“Americans are buying record numbers of hybrid and electric cars as gas prices climb and new models arrive in showrooms, giving the vehicles their greatest share yet of the U.S. auto market.” This according to the Associated Press, and papers from the Washington Post to The Bellingham Herald that reprint it. Really? Let’s have a look.

I am using data from our sister site Hybridcars.com that has been following the numbers since 2007 with the help of Baum & Associates. If you have issues with the data, don’t complain here.

Units Mar 2012YoYYTDvs. CYTD 2011Share MarShare YTDPlug-ins4,161349.4%7,250323.0%0.3%0.2%Hybrids48,20639.6%106,20737.2%3.4%3.1%Clean Diesel11,64239.6%28,26035.1%0.8%0.8%

Electric cars are anything but a hot seller. 4,161 cars with a plug changed hands in March, and most have an ICE lurking somewhere. There were 2,289 Volts (ICE lurking) and only 579 ICE-free Leafs. The take rate of the plug-in hybrid Prius echoes the disappointed comments I had picked up in Japan. Only 911 plug-in Prii were sold, but 27,800 regular ones. The plug-in idea sounds good, but people are not buying it.

Now for the Hybrids. Sure, hybrid sales are double of what they were in March 2009. But when you compare with March 2008, the jump is not that breathtaking. There were 34 hybrids listed in March 2012 for which Hybridcars has data. In 2008, it was eleven hybrids. One would expect that three times the hybrid models would make a significant dent into sales. Expectations dashed.

ModelUnits March 2012Toyota Prius27,800Toyota Camry5,404Lexus CT 200h2,223Hyundai Sonata2,095Chevy Malibu Hybrid1,416Kia Optima1,201Buick LaCrosse1,117Ford Fusion1,009Honda Insight1,032Lexus RX400/450h992Honda Civic906Linc. MKZ Hybrid626Toy. Highlander607Honda CR-Z536Lexus HS 250h261Ford Escape162Buick Regal135Porsche Cayenne124Cad. Escalade105Chevy Silverado78GMC Yukon Hybrid65Chevy Tahoe57BMW Hybrid 754Infiniti M35h47Porsche Panamera S43Mazda Tribute29VW Touareg Hybrid19GMC Sierra16Altima18Lexus GS450h12Mercedes S400HV10Lexus LS600hL5BMW X62Mercedes ML4500All hybrids48,206All vehicles1,400,100

If you look at the per model data, you see that Hybrids that do not come from Toyota move like molasses. Every second hybrid sold in America is a Prius, and the Prius delivers most of the growth of the hybrid segment. From March 2011 to March 12, sales of the Prius singlehandedly increased more in total units than those of all other 33 hybirds taken together.

Let’s keep in mind that March was a record month for all car sales. A more meaningful number is market share. Granted, market share for hybrids is “an all time high.” A 3.44 percent share that compares with a 2.82 percent share four years ago is no reason to announce the impending death of the ICE.

Another interesting point: Clean diesels outsold plug-ins by nearly a factor three. 11,642 clean diesels were sold in March, most of them Volkswagens. Unhyped, Volkswagen sold more than twice as many diesel Jettas than Chevrolet sold Volts in March.

The Nikkei [sub] reports that the Germans now even target diesel-averse Japan with their oilburners:

“Diesel fuel is more than 10% cheaper than gasoline, while diesel-powered cars are said to offer around 30% better mileage. Diesel vehicles’ fuel costs likely come in at 30-40% below those of gasoline-powered autos. Thanks as well to advances in technology for reducing emissions, diesels account for roughly half of all automobiles in Europe. But in Japan, where more than 20% of registered passenger cars are hybrids, diesels fail to reach even 1%.”

Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW want to change this. Good luck.

Speaking of which, the sighing executive was Japanese.

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2 of 49 comments
  • VA Terrapin VA Terrapin on Apr 15, 2012

    It looks like hybrid sales fairly closely correlate to gas prices. Even with the latest non-hybrid cars with 26+ city MPG and 35+ highway MPG, it doesn't look like hybrid sales momentum is hurting. We'll probably have to wait for the next sharp downturn in gas prices before hybrid sales go back down. The settling of the Iranian nukes issue and sustained slowdown of emerging economies can cause this.

  • Spike_in_Brisbane Spike_in_Brisbane on Apr 16, 2012

    I trawled the comments looking for any reasons for Prius sales beyond the fact that it is hybrid powered. Maybe it's a good car. From what I hear, the reliability is peerless. I suspect that more will be sold as owners' neighbours hear good ownership stories.