The U.S. auto market experienced its weakest August sales since 1983. Overall sales dropped by 21 percent compared to last August, when the Cash for Clunkers programs gave an all-too-brief boost to car sales.
Gas-electric hybrids, which disproportionately benefited from Clunkers a year ago, took a harder fall in August, dropping by 38 percent compared to last year. In a rare bright spot, the Ford Fusion Hybrid—a vehicle that racked up numerous “Car of the Year” awards in 2010—saw big gains in sales in August. Ford sold 3,010 Fusion Hybrids—up from 1,226 a year ago and nearly double from last month’s sales.
As usual, any single month’s sales figures—whether way up or down—should not be taken as a long-term trend.
Yet, August once again proved that the fortunes of the hybrid market are dominated by the Toyota Prius. Sales of the iconic hybrid model fell by nearly 38 percent compared to a year ago—the same percentage drop as the overall hybrid market. Toyota sold 11,799 Priuses, well below the nearly 19,000 sales from August 2009, when the vehicle was one of the most popular models during Cash for Clunkers.
August Prius sales were in line with its average monthly sales mark for the first eight months of 2010. In this light, Prius is showing some resilience despite a dismal economy and low gas prices. Toyota remains on track to introduce an entire line of Prius models, from a compact car to a crossover SUV. The Prius Plug-in Hybrid, with 13 miles of all-electric range, is scheduled to go on sale in 2012.
The luxury version of the Prius, the Lexus HS250h, regained its balance in August. Sales increased from 165 units in July, to 594 units in August.
Honda posted the first sales of its new model, the >CR-Z hybrid coupe. Honda sold a respectable 694 units during a partial month of sales. The introduction of the CR-Z, plus the jump in Fusion Hybrid sales, produced total hybrid sale of 24,002 units—essentially flat compared to last month.
New hybrid models expected later this year, such as the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid and Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, will continue to buoy the hybrid segment, during a period of lackluster auto sales. Automakers continue to develop new hybrids, as they prepare for tougher fuel economy regulations to commence in 2012.
The rundown of all August hybrid sales will be available, when we post our August 2010 Hybrid and Diesel Market Dashboard.