By on April 15, 2012

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 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 2012 YoY YTD vs. CYTD 2011 Share Mar Share YTD
Plug-ins 4,161 349.4% 7,250 323.0% 0.3% 0.2%
Hybrids 48,206 39.6% 106,207 37.2% 3.4% 3.1%
Clean Diesel 11,642 39.6% 28,260 35.1% 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.

Model Units March 2012
Toyota Prius 27,800
Toyota Camry 5,404
Lexus CT 200h 2,223
Hyundai Sonata 2,095
Chevy Malibu Hybrid 1,416
Kia Optima 1,201
Buick LaCrosse 1,117
Ford Fusion 1,009
Honda Insight 1,032
Lexus RX400/450h 992
Honda Civic 906
Linc. MKZ Hybrid 626
Toy. Highlander 607
Honda CR-Z 536
Lexus HS 250h 261
Ford Escape 162
Buick Regal 135
Porsche Cayenne 124
Cad. Escalade 105
Chevy Silverado 78
GMC Yukon Hybrid 65
Chevy Tahoe 57
BMW Hybrid 7 54
Infiniti M35h 47
Porsche Panamera S 43
Mazda Tribute 29
VW Touareg Hybrid 19
GMC Sierra 16
Altima 18
Lexus GS450h 12
Mercedes S400HV 10
Lexus LS600hL 5
BMW X6 2
Mercedes ML450 0
All hybrids 48,206
All vehicles 1,400,100

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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49 Comments on “Of Hybrid Heights And Other Hypes...”

  • avatar

    “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.”

    because a lot of Prius buyers want to be seen “being green.” Apart from the Volt, most/all other hybrids e.g. Fusion or Sonata look no different than the conventional versions. No doubt helped by the likes of Thomas Friedman beatifying Toyota for the saintly Prius (while they conveniently ignore all of those Highlanders, Sequoias, Tundras, and Lexus GX and LXs they sell.)

    • 0 avatar

      The Prius looking different is why my wife doesn’t want one. “Why can’t it just look like a normal car?”

    • 0 avatar


      Or, a simpler reason the Prius is the hybrid that sells so well is because it’s the hybrid that works best. Uniquely, 50mpg bragging rights and tons of room inside.

      But, feel free to continue on with the “lookitmegreen” meme and to be irritated with Toyota for building a successful hybrid and then having the audacity to compete in all other market segments. It’s not like you’re legally required to consider all the evidence before posting something foolish.

      • 0 avatar

        if you’re going to scoff at me for invoking some “lookitmegreen” meme, it might help your case if you don’t talk about “50 mpg bragging rights.”

      • 0 avatar

        It’s Toyota that has bragging rights. It’s why people go to the Prius.

      • 0 avatar

        The Prius also starts out cheaper than many of the competitors. The Sonata Hybrid and Camry Hybrid are $2,000 more and the Fusion Hybrid is $5,000 more (Kia’s website keeps crashing on me and I can’t seem to find pricing on the Malibu Hybrid on Chevy’s site). Any of those cars will provide a more rewarding driving experience than the Prius, as well as provide more comfort and a nicer cabin, but for those buying on economy purchase price has to be a part of the equation.

        The surprise to me is that the Honda Insight isn’t doing any better – it starts out $5,000 less than the Prius and would seemingly appeal to the ‘I only buy Japanese’ crowd.

  • avatar

    Does the 27800 sales for the “Toyota Prius” include sales of the newer Prius Calais and Prius Cruiser or is that just for the original Prius Supreme?

    • 0 avatar

      As soon as the Prius Brougham debuts, I’m making a beeline for the nearest Toyota dealer, it better come with spoke hubcaps and a padded vinyl roof…

    • 0 avatar

      It’s rather silly how Toyota plays the ‘name game’ with the hybrids. For those that care, the breakdown for March 2012 (from greencarcongress) is:

      Prius Hatchback – 18,008
      Prius V – 4,937
      Prius C – 4,875
      Prius Plug in – 891

      So in reality Toyota has the top 6 best selling hybrids.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m betting Toyota did enough research to realize giving each of those models a new name was the kiss of death to sales. But I think you’re right in that Toyota is in a real sense dominating the top six spots.

  • avatar

    It is interesting that the Prius Plug-in is also having a hard time selling. When this whole electric car move came a few years ago I thought, like GM and Toyota, that a plugin hybrid would be a successful seller. In between a normal hybrid (Prius) on one hand and a pure electric car (like Leaf or Focus EV) on the other. I thought range anxiety would inhibit pure electric vehicles, but the idea of routinely using no gas (unlike a hybrid) would appeal to a good number of buyers.

    It would seem that with both Chevy and Toyota selling a relatively small number of plugin cars that I and others were wrong. As Bertel said, it sounds a good idea but…..

    • 0 avatar

      Do the monroney stickers have ‘annual energy cost for this vehicle’ projections? Maybe shoppers are noticing that the expected savings between Prius and Plug-In Prius are a tiny fraction of the cost difference.

      • 0 avatar

        I agree, I was wondering if the difference was all down to price alone (between the three types – hybrid, plugin hybrid and pure EV).

        PCH – agree about Prius plug-in being new and time will tell if it increases in sales, but from Bertel’s comment above “The take rate of the plug-in hybrid Prius echoes the disappointed comments I had picked up in Japan” I am not holding my breath.

        I hope the Prius plug-in succeeds, along with the other plug ins coming like the Fusion and C-Max.

    • 0 avatar

      “It is interesting that the Prius Plug-in is also having a hard time selling.”

      The Prius plug-in just came out.

      During March 2012, its first full month of US sales, 891 units were sold. The Volt was on the market for about a year before it hit those types of numbers.

    • 0 avatar

      My philosophy – stated many times at this site – is that people will shun the dual-fuel concept because it’s a pain to keep track of. Most of my dual-fuel rhetoric has been directed at the Volt, but I would say the same thing about a plug-in Prius.

      I am a little baffled by the March sales lead of the Volt over the single-fuel Leaf, but I think Volt and Leaf sales are driven by other factors besides how many fuels they require.

  • avatar

    Who needs a hybrid for summer vacation travel when my 2000 Saab 9-5 with two up + dog and a couple hundred pounds of tools was seeing 39 mpg keeping up with traffic.

  • avatar

    “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.”

    And that’s factually accurate.

    The AP article also provided context for this: “And while their share of the market remains small, it’s a big leap from the start of the year, when hybrids and electrics made up 2.38 percent of new car sales.”

    The point of the AP article was to show that they’re gaining market share, which is true. They weren’t claiming that hybrids and electrics were a substantial part of the market — in fact, they said the opposite.

    It is true that Toyota owns this space. The data suggests that the segment of the market that wants hybrids is largely demanding the Prius and other TMC hybrids, not just any hybrid.

  • avatar

    Numerous reasons come to mind, most of which will change soon.

    1) Fuel is still by far too dirt cheap in the US. But don’t worry, peak oil will change all that. To an extent that people currently buying low priced 2 tonne SUVs will be proven insane withing the service lifes of these vehicles.

    When fuel was nearly 3x cheaper in Europe, no one cared about diesels much. Now the gasoline V8 is extinct, so is the 6 cylinder while people in the States still buy these in spades. That illustrates the still abysmal difference in fuel purchasing power. No wonder the difference in interest in fuel saving technologies is just as huge.

    2) The practical increase in the number of hybrid models offered is small as only few options are no nonsense ones. That will change too, starting with the (game changing ;) Aqua/Prius C.

    3) Americans put a high share of slow highway miles. Every engine is efficient under such load. Diesel relative efficiency gain yields much less net saving here and most of the hybrids are even worse at that. That will unlikely change.

    • 0 avatar

      @Toucan….I have to agree with your #1. Here in Canada gas is north of $5 a gallon. If you so much as show the slightest bit of interest to a Tahoe, they are all over you, like white on rice. 60k turns into 50k in a matter of minutes. Looking at used 2010’s? They are less than half of the original price.

      For sure, this is a good truck, that will give years of great service.

      Its that $100+ to fill the tank, who knows where that may be in five years?

    • 0 avatar

      So, if gas prices are going to go up (and they will–I wouldn’t be surprised if gas averages twice inflation), doesn’t that make all of BS’ analyses of break-even points completely wrong? After all, the more expensive gas is, the faster an efficient car pays for itself.

  • avatar

    To me, the most interesting change is the increase in hybrid Camry sales. IIRC, they usually run under 2K/month. 5404 represents a dramatic increase.

  • avatar
    doctor olds

    It is worthy of note that GM dominated plug-in sales, with 55% of the segment! Doesn’t fit well with the anti-GM/Volt storyline very well. It is still far too early to write off this technology, though it is off to a slow start.

    Diesel fuel is much more expensive than gas in Michigan due to taxes. National average fuel prices are a little closer. shows the cost of operation of the VW Golf Diesel is higher than Chevy Cruze Eco in manual trans versions and slightly lower with the automatic. It is certainly not a low operating cost proposition, 11,000 sales or not.

    • 0 avatar

      > shows the cost of operation
      > of the VW Golf Diesel is higher than Chevy Cruze
      > Eco in manual trans versions and slightly
      > lower with the automatic

      But this is based on EPA estimates which are BS in the case. They underrate diesels (EPA officials acknowledge that themselves) and are masssaged by car makers for all these eco models, making the number barely possible in the real world.

      The modern 140HP, one of the best of breed turbodiesel like the 2.0 TDI is 30% more efficient than a modern downsized DI turbocharged 140HP gas engine. That’s a fact.

      All this downsizing frenzy has been in Europe for a long time. While the progress has been noted in comparison with hopeless small N/A gas motors, the diesels improved at the same time as well and the 30% efficiency difference remained intact.

      • 0 avatar
        doctor olds

        I am a believer in diesel efficiency, too. On the other hand, there is no better way to compare two vehicles than objective scientific analysis, which is the basis for the epa numbers.

        They may not be precise in comparison to actual mileage consumers get, but they are certainly objective and show what the vehicles do under the same exact driving conditions- the EPA Federal Test Procedure schedule.

        If EPA officials agree that diesels are treated unfairly, please provide a link to support. We all want to know the truth.

      • 0 avatar

        I second all that about repeatable testing methods allowing direct comparison of cars in question. That’s how science works.

        > If EPA officials agree that diesels are treated unfairly,
        > please provide a link to support. We all want to
        > know the truth.

        Since I could not find the PDF I saw coupe years ago on my notebook, I googled this:

        There is a paper from EPA linked in this post where they take a look at YourMPG numbers posted by users and come to conclusion that VW 2.0 TDI models fare 18% better than their own estimate. That’s not a scientific test but it says something.

        What else? Some 180 drivers from Germany logged their fuel economy for the Golf 2.0 TDI 140HP. Average is 5,93 l/100km which is 39,7 MPG US which matches what US drivers got and is 18% higher than official EPA combined number of 34 MPG.

        Unfortunately I cannot recall whether what I read some years ago was the EPA official saying that their tests underrate the diesels or referring to YourMPG data as above.

      • 0 avatar

        The EPA is a consistent, repeatable, objective test. It just isn’t a test of driving. It isn’t even very close to driving, and nobody who’s looked at what they actually do with the cars would tell you otherwise.

        Like measuring cabin volume with ping pong balls, dividing by 21125, and declaring that’s how many queen box springs it’ll carry. Scientific, objective, and only accurate by occasional coincidence.

      • 0 avatar
        doctor olds

        Actually, Fuel economy ratings are derived from a chassis dynomometer drive schedule called the FTP- or Federal Test Procedure. It is sophisticated enough to comprehend different tire’s rolling resistance in the dyno setup and was originally created by recording a drive in Los Angeles to establish a consistant emissions test procedure many years ago.
        The FTP never gets above 55 MPH or so, if memory serves, but it is the quite similar to driving on the road in the context of emissions and fuel economy.

      • 0 avatar

        Even with a 40 MPG Golf TDI 2.0 that could save an average driver $400 a year vs. a 30 MPG Focus SE (uses regular), it would only take 12 short years to recoup the much higher Golf TDI MSRP (using round numbers for simplicity sake). That’s based on 12,000 miles a year and $0.15 more per gallon of diesel. That’s not counting particulate filtration, urea and possibly an out-of-warranty diesel fuel pump, injectors and or glow plugs which would set you back a few more years until you break even.

        On a side note, 1 in 5 gas stations sell diesel in my area and perhaps 4 in 5 of those are off brands that I don’t trust (for my diesel work truck). When I get to my station, just 2 out of their 8 pumps are for diesel/gas and I usually have to wait for a gasser to finish pumping because those pumps get used the most (easy in & out, designed for rigs). Then I usually end up at one of the no diesel stations anyways for their huge selection of snacks and beverages (for the crew).

    • 0 avatar

      The Volt is a good idea but it’s highly compromised. It is impossible to know anything about its success or failure because very Volt is packed with various cash bribes.

      $10K from the Feds
      Up to $2.5K from various states
      More from certain towns
      An HOV sticker (priceless but $10K is a decent estimate).

      At the moment, it’s not a car for the masses, it’s a car for someone who must have an EV at any price (and with the givebacks, you’d think it would have sold better prior to 2012).

      • 0 avatar
        doctor olds

        One thing for sure, the playing field is level! Plug-in competitors all receive the same incentives as Volt.

        Prius benefited from government incentives when it was launched too.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      Alls I can say is, I get a smidge more than 271mpg in my Volt currently, and using a public charging station costs me about $0.0075/mile.

      Plus, I got the full $7.5k subsidy back, as I don’t currently take advantage of the home mortgage, state tax or child subsidies that so many other Americans qualify for. Between that and my move expenses, I got to keep about $11k of my own money from the Feds, which is a nice add to my home down payment savings fund.. It’ll be nice to get the home mortgage and state property tax subsidies!

      • 0 avatar

        What? You’re bragging about a tax benefit?

        So uncouth of you…

        Sounds like you need to have about four children and then you could really “scam” the system.

      • 0 avatar
        Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

        Why not? Folks during the housing bubble couldn’t shut the f–k up about all the mortgage interest and property tax they were getting back, while I wasn’t getting a dime back from renting.. I’ve been taught not to fight the Fed, and to stop worrying and love the graft. Lesson learned!

        Meanwhile I have my ACR, my Glock, and my year’s supply of freeze-dried food, though a house that I could fortify and upgrade (with solar panels, cisterns, backup generator, etc) would be nice..

  • avatar

    I am surprised that diesel engines haven’t found their way into 1/2 ton trucks and SUVs.

    I would think it would be easier to convince someone to pay a premium to get an I4 Cummins Wrangler or a V6 Duramax Suburban/Silverado over a diesel Cruze or Dart.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      GM had a small-block diesel V8 under development but they canned it. It woulda been sweet for a smaller truck, or even the ‘Vette IMO..

      (google search for relevant TTAC fails :/)

      • 0 avatar
        doctor olds

        @Dr. Noisewater- That diesel is an awsome piece! Exhaust and turbo nestled in the V between the cylinders, intake on the outside of cylinder heads, it produced 520 ft-lb from 4.5L, if memory serves. It will package anywhere a small block fits, and was intended for 1/2 ton trucks. I heard a prototype in a Buick Rainier idle, and was surprised at how quiet it was.
        I tried to cajole a ride, but was not allowed to drive it as Lutz and staff were on their way to the grounds to evaluate it at the time. Losing touch with advanced technology makes me sorry I retired in ’08.
        I love your commentary on Volt!

      • 0 avatar

        Diesel seems to be the kiss of death in the US market. Such a shame everything is backwards, battery powered go karts for the masses when they could have exactly what they have now and at least 20% more efficient with a turbodiesel with the added bonus of greater engine longevity. I blame the crypto-fascist EPA and their obsession with emissions.

      • 0 avatar

        Ford’s 6.7 liter shares a couple design elements with the cancelled GM unit – the turbos are nestled in the V, and the block is CGI.

    • 0 avatar

      To be fair, there were diesel Libertys and Grand Cherokees, although Chrysler didn’t seem to see fit to spend the development money to improve emissions on the VM Motori unit, or replace the M-B engine.

      I can also attest to a lot of interest in diesel Wranglers, although I don’t know how much of it extends beyond theoretical, or how many of those potential buyers would buy new instead of used.

    • 0 avatar

      ajla, as one who once upon a time owned a USED Caddy with an Olds 350-diesel V8, I can tell you that it was a rolling disaster. I ended up having the 350-diesel swapped out for a rebuilt Olds 350-gas engine.

      While stationed in Europe during the 70’s I once also owned a USED M-B 220D. It took us all over Europe on vacations and never once gave us any kind of trouble. It could go 100mph (160kph) on the autobahns, loaded or unloaded, with the pedal to the metal.

      And when I sold it I got more for it than I paid for it when I bought it used. As far as I know the Captain I sold it to used it for the four years he was stationed there, without any problems.

      It’s too bad that our domestic manufacturers cannot make diesels like that for use on our own turf.

      • 0 avatar

        The domestic manufacturers are fully capable of building great diesel engines as proven by the truck motors, and even building great passenger car engines as shown by Ford and GM’s European offerings.

        The US market is not the same as the European market. Diesel fuel is still cheaper than gasoline in many European countries, and oftentimes the tax on diesel vehicles is less than on gasoline powered ones. European diesel emissions standards aren’t as stringent as the CARB rules that any US diesel has to meet to be 50 state legal. Diesel engines are more expensive to build and while in Europe the costs are quickly overcome by fuel savings, the same isn’t true here.

        Diesel is also harder to find at US gas stations – it’s readily available, but not ubiquitous. It’s anecdotal, but none of the gas stations I regularly use have diesel pumps.

      • 0 avatar
        doctor olds

        The big roadblock to diesels in GM’s lineup was high cost of exhaust after treatment to meet US emissions requirements when I left in ’08. On top of an already more expensive base engine, there was no business case. They could not be offered for prices that would allow profitable volumes.

        I am surprised by the upcoming Cruze diesel, not sure what has changed to give it a solid business case. Maybe 56MPG CAFE?

  • avatar
    VA Terrapin

    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.

  • avatar

    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.

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