Media reports have seen hybrid-electric vehicles playing second fiddle to plug-ins, their U.S. sales have certainly declined, but the global market is on the rise.
The source of this report is the automaker with the most to gain or lose – Toyota, which owns more than 80 percent of the global market share, and 73 percent in the U.S., but numbers don’t lie.
One meaningful statistic is Toyota reports it’s on track for 1.4 million hybrid sales this year, exceeding its previous high of 1.3 million in 2013.
Overall, Toyota reports 17-percent global hybrid sales growth for 2016’s first six months, according to a report by Wards Auto.
This was comprised of 708,998 units of its variously branded and badged cars sold around the globe compared to 606,530 during the same period of 2015.
Toyota may also be feeling a pinch however, as aforementioned plug-in cars like those from Tesla, and others steal the limelight as though they are the future personified.
Not helping things either is Toyota along with the entire U.S. hybrid market of around three-dozen models from several brands is in a lull at just 2 percent of the total market – down from a peak of 3.2 percent a couple years ago.
So what’s carrying Toyota? Mainly overseas growth up 26 percent and strong sales in its home market as well.
One Toyota model that has supplanted cars from the second-to-Prius selling position in the U.S. and doing well in Europe also is the new RAV4 Hybrid.
In Japan meanwhile, certain hybrid models sell better than mainstream cars, with the Prius Liftback (naturally) being one of them. The new flagship hybrid was launched in December 2015, and home-market sales are reportedly up by 90 percent over the outgoing model, with 128,000 sales being three-times what was sold in 2015.
By contrast, in the U.S., the redesigned 2016 Prius Liftback is actually down 10 percent despite prior anticipation of the new model. We’ve seen downcast opinions uttered by Stateside Prius observers saying the third-gen 2010-2015 Prius was the last true Prius, but this would appear to be an insular view, in light of Japan.
What’s more, thanks to Toyota and its hybrid sales, Japanese auto sales rose 11 percent to over 850,000 units for the first-half of, and six of every 10 units were sold in Japan.
Aside from Toyota, other brands selling in the home market, include Honda, Nissan, Mazda, and Subaru.
Best known for hybrids to Americans, Honda has seen its sales decline 16 percent for the first half of the year to 105,797, with decreases in both Japan and overseas markets.
Although Honda started the mainstream hybrid market in the U.S. with its 2000 Insight, it has long-since trailed the Toyota and Lexus full hybrid sales.
Honda’s hybrid sales a few years ago were 75 percent in its home market, and today they are closer to 97 percent.
Two Japan-market only Hondas are its best-selling Fit and Vexel. Sales of these are down 23 percent to 30,070 for the Fit, and 12 percent to 26,030 for the Vexel in the first half of 2016.
Small players adding to the sales pie are Subaru which sold 4,200 globally, and which is also down. Mazda sold just 529 hybrids.
Nissan, Japan’s second-largest automaker was responsible for 13,200 units, according to WardsAuto data, and was up 32 percent, aiding Toyota’s lions’ share contribution.
While Toyota has dominated for a decade and a half in the U.S., other automakers are expected to bring along truly competitive models as soon as this year, and as this decade progresses.
Much-publicized low fuel prices have slimmed down the already slim U.S. hybrid market, but regulatory pressure keeps automakers looking for ways to drive up their mpg and reduce emissions.
A glimmer of hope to U.S. hybrid enthusiasts is the 48-mpg 2017 Accord Hybrid which was redesigned after a 2016 hiatus, and could see its technology make its way into more U.S. models.
The automaker has otherwise discontinued outdated Civic and Acura ILX hybrid models leaving a void which could be filled by some of its advanced tech now enjoyed in Japan – and in the U.S. Accord Hybrid.
Aside from Honda, General Motors may have the brightest star with most potential in the hybrid space – its new 46 mpg Malibu Hybrid with technology adapted from the Volt.
The fuel-saving effectiveness of the hybrid architecture for this midsized sedan dwarfs the unsuccessful eAssist mild hybrid tech GM attempted to market in the Malibu and other models.
Michigan-based analyst Alan Baum foresees GM may be preparing an SUV, a crossover, and another compact sedan with the Volt/Malibu system purpose made for just such a spreading of the wealth. News could come as soon as this fall, but GM is not officially saying what it will do in proliferating new advanced hybrids in new segments.
Other brands, including those from Europe including Volkswagen, and Asia, including Nissan are also believed to be preparing models that could breath life into the market.
Baum projects 25 percent growth in the U.S. hybrid market for 2017 even as consumers and media continue to focus upon plug-in hybrids and all-electric cars.
In their favor is hybrids come in at lower prices, are proven to significantly cut fuel costs, and potentially pay back in a way average consumers can embrace.
Hybrids have also been on the market longer, and in June, the U.S. market bought its four-millionth model.
Toyota meanwhile says from its worldwide perspective, things look positive, and being most responsible for the hybrids on the roads today, it says hybrid technology will play an increasingly significant part going forward.