January Market Dashboard: Are Hybrids Recession-Proof?

in partnership with Polk

Hybrids Worldwide

"Top 5 global hybrid markets" based on vehicle registrations January – November 2007.

and "Top 5 US hybrid markets" based on vehicle registrations January – November 2007.

January is usually not a big month for car sales. This year, the New Year doldrums hit hybrids as well as the larger car market. Sales of all vehicles—hybrids included—were down by approximately 25 percent compared to December. But if we compare this month to January of last year, a familiar trend emerges: hybrid sales grew by 25 percent while the overall market declined slightly.

Hybrid sales this January might have been higher if gas prices had continued to rise, as they did in much of 2007. In the past, car shoppers have exhibited a knee-jerk response to high gas prices by rushing to hybrid dealerships. But gas prices fell by roughly 10 cents a gallon. In addition, gloomy news about the economy may have kept consumers from shopping much at all.

Exactly where the economy is headed, and the impact the general economic climate has on hybrid shoppers, remains to be seen. So far, year-over-year sales performance hints that some hybrid models may be recession-proof. The Toyota Prius, for example, grew 37 percent compared with last January—not bad for a four-year-old model that is nearing its next redesign. Other well-established and generally fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles—Camry, Highlander, and Escape—also seem less affected by recessionary pressures. But less fuel efficient models, such as those from Lexus, took a beating this month, indicating that hybrid and luxury are not a winning combination particularly in a lagging economy.

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 final 2007 volumes.

Hybrids sold in the U.S. (January 2008): 22,411

US hybrid sales for January 2008

Model Units vs. 12/07 vs. 01/07
Altima 473 -50.9% n/a
Prius 11,379 -19.9% 37.1%
Civic 1,745 -45.9% -2.1%
Accord 48 -68.0% -80.6%
Camry 3,750 -24.5% 33.9%
Highlander 2,143 -23.2% 18.4%
RX400h 1,211 -40.4% -2.7%
GS450h 64 -52.9% -61.7%
LS600hL 105 -18.6% n/a
Escape 1,296 -34.8% 24.7%
Mariner 178 -35.5% -10.6%
Vue 10 -52.4% -97.2%
Aura 9 -72.7% n/a
All hybrids 22,411 -27.5% 24.9%
All vehicles 1,059,367 -23.8% -2.9%

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

United States Sales by Make

U.S. hybrid market historical sales (1999 – 2007)

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 83,269
2 Florida 17,724
3 New York 16,089
4 Texas 15,632
5 Washington 11,924
6 Illinois 11,905
7 Virginia 11,056
8 Pennsylvania 10,160
9 Massachusetts 9,243
10 New Jersey 8,869
11 Arizona 8,654
12 Maryland 8,166
13 North Carolina 7,705
14 Oregon 7,696
15 Colorado 7,153

*Registrations CYTD November 2007

States where hybrids are most popular

Rank State New Hybrids per 1000 Residents*
1 California 2.305
2 Oregon 2.114
3 Washington 1.896
4 Vermont 1.894
5 District of Columbia 1.775
6 Colorado 1.533
7 Connecticut 1.521
8 New Hampshire 1.505
9 Virginia 1.461
10 Maryland 1.458
11 Arizona 1.457
12 Massachusetts 1.445
13 Nevada 1.184
14 Rhode Island 1.182
15 New Mexico 1.163
US State Average 0.985

*Registrations CYTD November 2007

Metropolitan areas with the highest hybrid sales

Rank Metropolitan Area New Hybrids*
1 Los Angeles 37,134
2 San Francisco 24,636
3 New York 19,036
4 Washington, DC 11,753
5 Seattle 10,066
6 Chicago 9,619
7 Boston 9,604
8 Philadelphia 7,942
9 Sacramento, CA 7,237
10 Phoenix 7,156
11 San Diego 6,679
12 Portland, OR 6,369
13 Denver 6,286
14 Minneapolis-St. Paul 5,002
15 Dallas-Ft. Worth 4,849

*Registrations CYTD November 2007

Metropolitan areas where hybrids are most popular

Rank Metropolitan Area New Hybrids per 1000 Households*
1 Portland, OR 15.647
2 San Francisco, CA 10.458
3 Monterey, CA 8.424
4 Santa Barbara, CA 7.040
5 Los Angeles 6.707
6 San Diego 6.509
7 Charlottesvilla, VA 6.337
8 Bend, OR 6.009
9 Seattle 5.914
10 Sacramento 5.377
11 Washington, DC 5.218
12 Eugene, OR 4.880
13 Palm Springs, CA 4.617
14 Burlington, VT 4.495
15 Denver 4.442
  US Metro Area Average 2.168

*Registrations CYTD November 2007

Looking Ahead

One month of sales figures is obviously not enough to call the winners and losers in the 2008 hybrid market. We’ll have a clearer picture by the spring. But we don’t need to wait until the snow melts to see the trends, which have been in play for a couple of years.

Affordability matters. High MPG matters. And when you combine a good price and exceptional fuel economy—compared to other vehicles in the segment—then you have a hybrid that can sell in impressive quantities. Not delivering on both key factors is deadly.

This simple equation spells trouble for any carmaker introducing a new hybrid with a high price tag or with low mpg in 2008. Unfortunately, the latest hybrids introduced to the market, and the next batch of hybrids due out in 2008, are full of costly luxury models, SUV behemoths with powerful engines, and models that show negligible fuel economy improvements. The pricey Chevy Tahoe Hybrid—and even pricier Cadillac Escalade Hybrid—may struggle to find buyers in this market. However, GM’s hybrid pickup trucks, full-hybrid versions of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, may offer a glimmer of light. The future growth of the hybrid market will depend on new segments, and the pickup market is huge. Introducing a new hybrid SUV with a “no-compromise” message was news—four years ago. But the first full-hybrid pickup on the market could grab headlines and capture the imagination of a new breed of hybrid owners.


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  • Jerry

    The year over year numbers are compelling and illustrate that the public wants a reasonable hybrid combination. Small car, family sedan or small SUV such as Prius, Camry, Escape. It will be interesting to see the Altima year over year number when that is reached.

  • Collin Burnell

    I believe the Altima would do quite well if it was available in all 50 states. I live in Las Vegas (not sold in Nevada) but I leased mine in California. I am aware of at least 3 others in my neighborhood who must have also purchased in California.

    I also believe Honda is really ‘missing the boat’ right now. A 4-cylinder Hybrid Accord getting 30-35 MPG’s would actually sell very well. They are also being stupid with the Civic Hybrid by only offering it in boring colors and not improving how the car(s) looks on their website.

    Also, the Escape Hybrid is quite handsome this year!!!

  • Collin Burnell

    OK, I have to take back the part about Honda’s website. The new site is much better. Still BORING colors though!!!

  • wing

    This is really cool to know .Thanks for sharing this update.More power.
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