December 2008 Dashboard: The Key Is Production Numbers

in partnership with Polk

While dismal sales are predicted to continue well into 2009, automakers are betting that the way out of this mess lies in green, high-tech offerings.

Hybrid Heatmap

In this month’s version, we show the states where hybrids are the most popular. In other words, the heat map shows the number of hybrids per 1,000 residents—as a way to see if hybrids are only popular in the most populous states.

Hybrid Heatmap

Analysis of December (and 2009) Sales Numbers

Hybrids Worldwide

"Top 5 global hybrid markets" based on vehicle registrations CYTD October 2008.

and "Top 5 US hybrid markets" based on vehicle registrations CYTD October 2008.

Auto executives at the 2009 North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week repeatedly expressed relief that 2008 is behind them. In the past 12 months, the industry has lurched from crisis to crisis. In the summer, high gasoline prices choked demand for popular truck and SUV models. Then in the fall, tight credit and a faltering economy kept thousands of buyers out of showrooms. Finally this winter, federal lawmakers publicly scolded leaders of the Detroit Three as they pleaded for financial assistance. Overall, 2008 auto sales ended down 18 percent compared with 2007, with hybrid sales down by 10 percent. Most of the pain came in the fourth quarter, when sales of all vehicles (hybrids included) plummeted by more than a third to levels not seen since the early 1990s.

While dismal sales are predicted to continue well into 2009, automakers are betting that the way out of this mess lies in green, high-tech offerings. Nearly every major automaker showcased new electric-drive vehicles at the Detroit show, including hybrids (Toyota Prius, Honda Insight, and Ford Fusion), plug-in hybrids (Daimler E-Cell Plus, Cadillac Converj, and Chrysler Town & Country EV) and electric vehicles (Toyota FT-EV, Dodge Circuit EV, and Ford Focus EV). Finally, the auto industry seems to be getting the message that there is a market for more than just horsepower, towing capacity, and cup holders: electrification is widely accepted as the next big thing.

But the area to watch in 2009 is not vehicle launches or high-tech concepts: it’s production volumes. Introducing new hybrid and electric vehicle models is fine, but those vehicles will only have a real impact on oil consumption and emissions if they are produced and sold in large volumes.

Consider the relative hybrid “take rates” for three hybrid makers. Honda sold 1.4 million vehicles this year in the US, and roughly 31,500 hybrids—equal to 2.2 percent of the total. Almost 11 percent of the Toyota’s US sales were hybrids.

General Motors, offer an impressive number of hybrid models, but produce them in such small quantities that hybrids amount to an insignificant fraction of the companies’ overall vehicle offerings. If automakers like GM are truly betting their future on hybrids and other electric-drive technologies, they have put surprisingly few chips on the table to-date. Whether this changes in 2009 remains to be seen.

The way to tell will be to look beyond this week’s flashy product announcements and the slick advertising copy that follows. Instead, scrutinize next year’s production numbers, and you’ll be able to tell who is serious about electrification, and who is simply trying to steal momentum from the latest automotive trend.

US Sales

Our information is based on hybrid sales as reported by the manufacturers. For each model, this month’s sales are shown compared to sales in the previous month and at the same time last year. We also examine hybrid market share by model and manufacturer. The historical sales graph for top-selling hybrid models shows estimated 2008 volumes based on sales-to-date.

Hybrids sold in the US (December 2008): 17,697

US hybrid sales for December 2008

Model Units vs. last month vs. December 2007 CYTD vs. CYTD 2007
Prius 7,859 -9.2% -44.7% 158,884 -12.3%
Camry 1,888 -13.2% -62.0% 46,272 -15.1%
Highlander 890 -1.9% -68.1% 19,391 -12.1%
RX400h 1,463 134.5% -28.0% 15,200 12.1.%
LS600hL 50 35.1% -61.2% 980 n/a
GS450h 51 21.4% -62.5% 678 -58.8%
Civic 1,036 -0.7% -67.9% 31,297 4.7%
Escape 1,043 12.0% -47.6% 17,193 -19.6%
Mariner 106 -39.8% -61.6% 2,329 37.4%
Yukon 442 132.6% n/a 2,356 n/a
Malibu 454 132.8% n/a 2,388 n/a
Vue 338 3.0% 1,509.5% 3,067 39.5%
Tahoe 981 142.8% n/a 4,088 n/a
Aura 34 -24.4% 3.0% 286 -63.0%
Altima 710 101.1% -26.3% 8,819 5.1%
Escalade 306 56.9% n/a 801 n/a
Aspen* 46 n/a n/a 46 n/a
All hybrids 17,697 7.0% -42.8% 314,271 -10.3%
All vehicles 894,967 19.7% -35.6% 13,260,747 -17.9%

*Aspen Hybrid sales numbers include sales for both Chrysler SUV hybrid models

U.S. hybrid sales for October 2008 by manufacturer and model

United States Sales by Make

U.S. hybrid market historical sales (1999 – 2008)

United States Yearly Sales

Regional Data

Source: R. L. Polk & Co.

Curious where hybrid buyers live? We present the data in two ways. First, we list the 15 cities and states that boast the largest numbers of new hybrids on their roads within the past year. For example, residents in the New York City area put over 19,000 new hybrids on the road in 2007. Second, we adjust for population and look at hybrids per person (in states) or per household (in metro areas.) This lets us include cities like Portland, OR: a city that has fewer overall vehicles (and thus fewer hybrids) but has more hybrids per capita than anywhere else.

States with the Highest Hybrid Sales

Rank State New Hybrids*
1 California 67,923
2 New York 15,435
3 Texas 14,430
4 Florida 14,387
5 Illinois 11,252
6 Virginia 9,268
7 Washington 9,185
8 Pennsylvania 8,882
9 New Jersey 8,436
10 Arizona 8,218
11 Massachusetts 8,112
12 Maryland 6,951
13 North Carolina 6,802
14 Ohio 6,604
15 Colorado 5,831

*Registrations CYTD October 2008

States where hybrids are most popular

Rank State New Hybrids per 1000 Residents*
1 California 1.8880
2 District of Columbia 1.793
3 Oregon 1.494
4 Washington 1.461
5 Vermont 1.406
6 Connecticut 1.398
7 Arizona 1.384
8 New Hampshire 1.312
9 Massachusetts 1.268
10 Colorado 1.250
11 Maryland 1.241
12 Virginia 1.225
13 Nevada 1.157
14 Hawaii 1.075
15 Alaska 1.038
US State Average 0.820

*Registrations CYTD October 2008

Metropolitan areas with the highest hybrid sales

Rank Metropolitan Area New Hybrids*
1 Los Angeles 30,306
2 San Francisco 18,883
3 New York 18,617
4 Washington, DC 9,771
5 Chicago 8,963
6 Boston 8,323
7 Seattle 7,592
8 Philadelphia 7,200
9 Phoenix 6,966
10 San Diego 6,103
11 Sacramento 5,981
12 Denver 5,113
13 Minneapolis-St. Paul 4,283
14 Portland, OR 4,535
15 Dallas-Ft. Worth 4,446

*Registrations CYTD October 2008

Metropolitan areas where hybrids are most popular

Rank Metropolitan Area New Hybrids per 1000 Households*
1 Portland, OR 11.141
2 San Francisco 8.016
3 Monterrey, CA 6.621
4 Santa Barbara, CA 6.295
5 San Diego 5.947
6 Los Angeles 5.474
7 Charlottesville, VA 4.875
8 Seattle, WA 4.461
9 Sacramento, CA 4.444
10 Washington, DC 4.338
11 Phoenix 4.195
12 Palm Springs, CA 4.064
13 Helena, MT 3.836
14 Eugene, OR 3.755
15 Denver, CO 3.627
  US Metro Area Average 1.812

*Registrations CYTD September 2008

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More Hybrid News...

  • Charles

    Anybody up for a 2009 Hybrid sales WAG?

    Here is my guess:

    Model 2008 2009 Guess
    Prius 158884 150940
    Camry 46272 34102
    Highlander 19391 19391
    RX400/450h 15200 15200
    LS600hL 980 980
    GS450h 678 678
    Civic 31297 9389
    Escape 17193 17193
    Mariner 2329 2329
    Yukon 2356 2356
    Malibu 2388 2388
    Vue 3067 3067
    Tahoe 4088 4088
    Aura 286 572
    Altima 8819 6500
    Escalade 801 801
    Aspen* 46 0
    Fusion/Milan n/a 19998
    Insight n/a 37796

  • K. Kenneth Cooper

    Once companies like Plug In Hybrid ( in San Diego and REV Technologies Inc ( start making an impact on their conversions from gas guzzler to electric hybrids, there should be a dashboard that shows the numbers of conversions. It is companies like these that are going to make a difference, not the vision-less Detroit automakers who have fumbled the ball once again (and over the past 3 decades) while the Japanese and now the entrepreneurs of the country make their presence known and pick up market share. But I guess looking on the bright side, had Detroit not fumbled – there wouldn’t be an opportunity for these type of companies to pick up the ball and run with it.

  • Bryce

    On a market note, the Chevy Tahoe is now outselling the Toyota highlander. People to have made market share gains seem to be GM and Nissan. Losses going to the folks at Ford and Honda. Toyota so far has held their hybrid ground despite this recent barrage of new models. People making gains in the market in general seems to be GM having all of its models with month on month growth basically all year. Not bad considering the Carpocalypse and limited production numbers due to battery shortages. Toyotas luxury SUV hybrid is also selling well, even better than their non-luxury model, the Highlander, oddly enough. The Nissan Altima also did nicely for itself I would have to say. It should be interesting this coming year to watch the new models come into play. (The Insight, the Fusion, the SIlverado/Sienna, and the 2-mode Vue) All interesting cars that should probably represent well for their makers.

    I look forward to this coming year and the surprises that are likely to come along with it.

  • Collin Burnell

    Were there no sales of the Mazda Tribute Hybrid?

  • crookmatt

    It’s clear that the longterm trend is up, slow economics and low gas prices have temporarioy slowed hybrid sales.

    Think of it this way. The last time gas prices were as low as they are today was in 2003. That year there were less than 60,000 hybrid sales in the US. So even though gas prices are just as low as 2003, there were still 300,000 hybrids sold this year and over 17,000 just in the month of December (which was the slowest month all year — still outpacing the last time gas was this low)

    Additionally, consider that hybrid car owners are over 90% likely to purchase another hybrid after they are finished with their current one and sales should continue in the upward direction long term.

  • Burnsville JPW

    The hybrids-per-1000-residents is really a nice stat, as it lets states compete on even terms, but I alsor would really like to also see a listing of how states stack up on the % of total car sales that hybrids represent, i.e., how big is the hybrid piece of the sales pie.

  • david mausolf

    Could we get more detailed information on sales by county state-by-state. I could see charging money for that information. Saying Florida is #4 in sales, does not help unless I know which market have the highest density.