Dead Hybrids Walking
October’s auto sales figures were disastrous. And hidden in the dismal numbers were a couple of hybrid oddities. You might view them as thrillers: The Case of the Missing Hybrids, double-billed with Last Hybrid Standing.
Missing from October figures were the Dodge Durango Hybrid and Chrysler Aspen Hybrid, for which not a single sale was recorded. Regular versions were sold—984 Durangos and 1,045 Aspens—but nary a Hybrid. Chrysler explained the missing hybrids it this way: “We have not delivered any through dealers yet, as [the hybrids] are just being delivered to dealers for the first time this week.”
Both vehicles will go out of production next month—when Chrysler shutters its Newark, Del., assembly plant. In other words, those hybrids will arrive in showrooms for the first time only weeks before they die for good. Year-to-date sales of both (non-hybrid) SUVs totaled just 37,049, fully 42 percent lower than the 64,084 sold by October 2007. That rate, said industry analyst Aaron Bragman of Global Insight, probably isn’t even enough to cover the plant’s fixed costs.
And that last hybrid standing? It would be the single, solitary Honda Accord Hybrid sold during October, called out from an overall total of 19,783 Accords. (Last October Honda sold 243 Accord Hybrids within 30,936 Accords.) It’s just a straggler, but it highlights the reality that a handful of fairly old “new cars” is buried within the sales figures every month—this would have been a 2007 model. And it was far from the only one this year; 197 Accord Hybrids found buyers in 2008.
The Accord Hybrid had its own history of headlines. One notable review was titled, “Sips gas. Hauls ass.” And that was its niche; it was the first “performance hybrid”. High-performance hybrids turned out to be a niche so small that few buyers cared. They sold OK in 2005, but 2006 sales plummeted as more hybrids entered the market. In June 2007, Honda threw in the towel. If you want one, check with your dealer; you never know what’s kicking around.
The Real Horror Story: GM Sales Decline by 45 Percent
Oh, and those October numbers? US auto sales last month plunged 32 percent from October 2007 levels. General Motors took the biggest hit, a jaw-dropping 45-percent decline, Toyota fell 23 percent despite a 0-percent financing blitz; Ford lost 32 percent; Chrysler plummeted 35 percent; even Honda’s lineup of small cars couldn’t rescue a 25-percent reduction; and Nissan dropped 33 percent. GM’s Mike DiGiovanni summed it up by calling the numbers “unsustainably weak” across the entire industry.
We’ll issue our monthly Hybrid Market Dashboard in the next few days, but hybrid vehicles are still beating the overall market. The demise of Chrysler’s V8 Hemi Hybrids, and the Accord Hybrid—the first muscle hybrid—show how not to succeed with a hybrid. The next two model years promise to get it right: The new Toyota Prius, the low-cost Honda Insight, the new Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan Hybrids, are paving the way in 2009.
By 2012 or 2013, some forecasts say hybrids may take as much as 5 or 6 percent of the new-car market—about double the current hybrid market. As the saying goes, it’s darkest right before the dawn.