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.


  • B. Nicholson

    Again, we need a revolution. We can attain 300 mpg, why settle for 30? Aerodynamic carbon fiber bodies, electric drive trains, generator totes: cars can’t be made of steel any more.

  • AP

    B. Nicholson said, “Again, we need a revolution. We can attain 300 mpg, why settle for 30? Aerodynamic carbon fiber bodies, electric drive trains, generator totes: cars can’t be made of steel any more.”

    I doubt the cure for the automarket is to greatly increase the price of the vehicles.

  • Darrell Hovermale

    My concern is now that gas has fallen below $2.50 a gallon, interest in hybrids and alternative fuel vehicles may evaporate. With the ecomomy in the toilet, how many people will buy any new car, hybrid or not. It’s almost as if there is a calculated effort to keep America addicted to cheap foreign oil. Whether your interest is enviromental, love of country, or both, we need to junk oil as a means of fueling our economic engine. Sending billions of dollars to countries that sponsor terrorism against our nation is insanity.

  • jvoelcker

    @Darrell: The sensible policy solution to this concern is a floor on gasoline prices, which would give automakers some predictability in their product mixes–which have to be decided 3-5 years ahead of launch. See http://www.hybridcars.com/incentives-laws/mileage-requirements-wrong-way-cut-gasoline-use-24905.html

    As an auto analyst says in that piece, “Unfortunately, in America, you’ll also sign your political death warrant [advocating higher gas taxes or price floors],” he says. “Any attempt to raise fuel taxes is viewed as something between treason and terrorism. It boggles my mind that politicians actively push for higher and higher CAFE standards for automakers, while at the same time (and sometimes in the same speech!) advocating measures to bring down fuel prices.”

  • mike grant

    This is the trick oil companies play to keep us “addicted” to oil. When they see usage go down or technology that threatens them, they lower the price to make us say “hey, gas isnt so expensive now. Im gonna keep my SUV.” Then the oil companies jack the price back up. We are slaves to the crude.

  • kanejk

    It’s so irritating to see that Hybrid technology is being reserved for large SUVs.

    I understand that one or two SUV hybrid choices is wise, but several of them? With only a few sedans and no compacts?

    If Toyota had put the technology of the Prius into the Seqoiua, it would never have sold hundreds of thousands-and the environmental offset would not have been achieved. That’s the point, isn’t it?

    I don’t know…I thought two large SUVs from the same company, with the Hybrid Tahoe, Suburban, Escalade, Highlander, Escape already here to just be ridiculous.

  • Will S

    The article states, “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.”

    I will agree up to a point; such progress is better than BAU or gashog hybrids, but we certainly need much greater fuel economy, as mentioned by B. Nicholson, and we need to resist temporary returns to cheap oil as signalling “everything is allright afterall”, as Jonn V and mike grant noted.

  • hybridman2

    I’ve seen this every time over my last 36 years of driving. It’s a pattern so obvious and consistent it’s ridiculous. First they edge the gas prices up to a dollar mark, then they slow it down- getting close but not going over. Then suddenly it breaks through and goes way over and people rage and scream, start calling the politicians.

    They let the pot boil for awhile, let people get good and mad. Industries start to respond with breakthroughs and solutions (like hybrids, On Demand Hydrogen Generators, Electric conversion kits, etc.). The market gears up to do battle…

    Then the SOB’s drop the prices, backing them down to under the dollar mark (whether it’s $2.00, $3.00, $4.00 or more it’s been the SAME pattern) usually down to .70 or .75 mark. Voila! People are happy once again to be ONLY paying $2.75 or $3.75 instead of the “outrageous” prices.

    Conditioning finished. Oil Execs and OPEC sit back and take a drink as they laugh at the consumer and how easy we are manipulated.

    Oh yes. One other thing. They seem to always time it so that the new industries that are popping up to deal with their nonsense, are just on the verge (or in the process) of breaking through into mainstream, then they pull the carpet out attempting to cause those industries to fold up or retreat back.

    Hopefully, people will not forget this time and remain suspicious. There is already talk at OPEC about how critical it is to cut back on supply, prices have gone too low.

    I think we will have to wait until after the elections in the US to see what happens, but if the cycle continues- you’ll see gas prices going back up again in a short while. In the meantime, look into hybrid water technology as an inexpensive way to deal with it and be in a position to save as they start going back up again.

    Bob
    Transitional Technologies, LLC

  • 38mpg

    To hybridman2,

    The responsibiliby to handle this situation should be with our elected representatives. And that means the solution to volatile energy prices are ‘us’, the people. We can choose to elect only folks who will stabilize energy markets. We can agree to tax gasoline reasonably so that it is worth while for companies to invest in advanced cars and other fuel saving measures. We can choose to purchase a 4 cylinder car, when we only need a daily commuter.

  • Shines

    If you want efficiency a Prius gets 45 MPG. If you don’t care about the price of oil a Hummer H2 gets 7 MPG. If you don’t want to be addicted to oil at all then ride a bike. I can remember as a child listening to my Dad and uncle discussing where to get gas for 16.2 cents a gallon instead of 16.8 cents a gallon. My parents bought a brand new Ford for $1250.00. Inflation has been with us for decades. Oil is a commodity – its price is no longer controlled by the oil companies. I’m glad to see auto companies producing much more efficient vehicles. I look forward to the Volt and other cars that can go 40 or more miles without using any gas. I hope by our using less fuel our environment will improve.
    But these big oil conspiracy theories are hogwash. Let’s stick to the topic, the development and evolution of fuel efficient hybrids.
    I’m stepping off my soapbox now… ;-)

  • Samie

    Where is CAFE?
    Everyone loves to hate on this because it does little in reducing consumption of gasoline, that is people often drive more. But what people often fail to realize that CAFE does not have the same economic consequences that a gasoline floor tax does.Even if you get what you pay in through tax rebates you have to wait once a year to receive the money back that is hard to budget for everyday consumption of say gasoline or food. CAFE does not do this in fact it encourages mobility and economic activity. This may not appeal to the environmentalists but for families that have little disposable incomes this is good. Is CAFE perfect no but additional tinkering of it could get us to where we want to go without all the political consequences of a gas tax or floor.

    Why are we not telling GM to produce cars like the Cruze now or maybe those models that appeal to high-end buyers to be more then just 10mpg show-off vehicles.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Ok, let’s quit just complaining.
    I believe you’re all correct that the Oil companies are intentionally manipulating oil prices in order to keep us addicted to oil by breaking the backs of any alternatives with yo-yo prices.
    I’m going to call on the readers of this website to help break the cycle.
    Those of us who actually do understand what is happening have to work hard to wean ourselves off of oil. This will mean that we need to quit whining about the price of a car today and focus on the cost of the car in the future. Alternatives will be more expensive initially than incumbents. The laws of nature mandate this. Someone is going to have to pay the startup costs, whether it is the consumer, the government, or the manufacturers.
    I’m personally asking everyone here to take positive steps to break the cycle:

    1. Keep your current vehicle until it either dies or an alternative energy vehicle (plug-ins make the most sense) is available in your price range. In addition to sending the message to the auto industry that you are serious that you want an alternative to oil, this will also save you car payments. You will then have more money available to buy the alternatives while they are still expensive, thus rewarding the manufacturers who do the right thing and build them.
    2. Tell the auto makers “No Plug – No Deal” and show them the car you’re driving. If you’re not sure how to contact the auto makers, http://www.pluginamerica.org/take-action-now/contact-automakers.html has contact info for all of them. You can also stop by your local auto dealer. I assure you, they have plenty of time to talk since no one is buying cars. Ask to speak to the general manager or the sales manager, don’t waste too much time on the sales people.
    3. If you worry about the POS you end up driving, buy stickers saying “No Plug – No Deal”. You can make them yourself or buy them at: http://www.cafepress.com/pluginamerica
    4. Tell your friends how they are being played and suggest that they, too do the same thing.
    5. Think of other creative ways to get a plug-in or other real alternatively fueled (not higher mpg) vehicles.

  • Cal

    Every time I hear GM crying about their paltry sales numbers, I think back when they had cornered the market with their EV-1. Surely they could re-tool and get these great cars back on the road again. Oh that’s right, I almost forgot, they confiscated all of them and systematically crushed them so they could produce high dollar/low mileage vehicles. Sorry, no pity from me.

    As far as the oil prices go, the market is similar to the diamond market and is manipulated all to hell. When demand goes down, they cut production to keep the prices high. Who wouldn’t want to make the same money for less work. We’re getting fleeced by OPEC and the oil companies.

    Excellent battery technology is here and solar power is reliable. People need to take a stake in their own futures instead of waiting for the auto manufacturers to grab the ball and run. Why should we have to pay to re-tool the auto companies so they can sell us efficient cars? I own a business and if I want to compete in the market, I have to sink my profits back into my company to make myself competitive. Where are the profits from the auto companies???

    We’re getting ripped off every time we turn a corner. Enough!!