March 2009 Dashboard: Did Hybrid Sales Bottom Out?

in partnership with Polk

There was cautious optimism among auto executives this month, as overall car sales increased 24 percent from February’s number. Hybrid sales fared even better, rising by 34 percent compared to last month. Nonetheless, the market remains well below its past levels.

Hybrid Heatmap

In this month’s heatmap, we try to get a handle on where hybrid sales grew the most from 2007 to 2008. On one hand, it’s obvious that the growth would occur in states where hybrid sales have been low in the past. (In other words, the percentage increase in 2008 is greater where there was a low basis in 2007. For example, see the large percentage increases in Alaska and North Dakota.) On the other hand, the heat map does give the impression that hybrid adoption is filling in throughout the country, as hybrids move more and more into the mainstream.

Hybrid Heatmap

Analysis of March 2009 Sales Numbers

Hybrids Worldwide

"Top 5 global hybrid markets" based on vehicle registrations CYTD January 2009.

and "Top 5 US hybrid markets" based on vehicle registrations CYTD January 2009.

There was cautious optimism among auto executives this month, as overall car sales increased 24 percent from February’s number. Hybrid sales fared even better, rising by 34 percent compared to last month. Nonetheless, the market remains well below its past levels: relative to 2008, sales-to-date for both hybrids and conventional vehicles are off by nearly 40 percent.

So have hybrid sales finally hit bottom? Probably, if a few trends continue. The first is buyers: manufacturers lured consumers into showrooms this month by offering record-high incentives on existing cars. On average, dealers offered $3,169 worth on incentives on each vehicle that sold in March. While the numbers were lower for manufacturers like Toyota and Honda that dominate the hybrid market, customer incentives remain on numerous hybrid models including the Prius, Civic Hybrid, Altima Hybrid, and Tahoe Hybrid. At the moment, the “cash on the hood” of hybrid models is propping up sales. Future growth will only occur with continued incentives, a rebound in consumer interest, or a bit of both.

The second key trend is gas prices. Gas prices have risen more than 20 percent since December, and jumped 6 percent during March. But the cost of crude remains low, and gasoline is still relatively cheap, averaging less than $2.00 a gallon last month. Without a sustained increase in the price of gasoline, it is unlikely that hybrid sales will show significant sales expansion. More than ever, mainstream car buyers are interested in saving money—which means they’ll only invest in a more expensive hybrid car if the pain they feel at the pump gets harder to bear.

The final trend is new models. Growing hybrid sales beyond 2 to 3 percent of the market will require offering a wide variety of body styles—from compact sedans to large pickups—from numerous manufacturers, both foreign and domestic. Two new hybrid offerings, the Honda Insight and the Ford Fusion/Mercury Milan Hybrid, entered the market in March, expanding the total number of hybrid nameplates in the US to 22. Since the new models began shipping in the middle of the month, it’s hard to judge their March performance. However, it is worth noting that the Insight is already enjoying higher sales volumes than most other hybrid models, including all six of GM’s offerings. So while a diverse lineup of hybrid models is important, so are manufacturers’ commitments to produce and sell their hybrid cars in large volumes, rather than simply positioning them as “niche” vehicles.

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 (March 2009): 21,433

US hybrid sales for March 2009

Model Units vs. last month vs. March 2008 CYTD vs. CYTD 2008
Prius 8,924 23.4% -56.8% 24,277 -43.4%
Insight 569 n/a n/a 569 n/a
Fusion 402 n/a n/a 402 n/a
Milan 49 n/a n/a 49 n/a
Camry 2,554 22.8% -63.1% 5,775 -61.0%
Highlander 1,037 8.5% -53.7% 2,977 -52.9%
RX400h 1,165 22.4% 25.8% 4,223 7.5%
LS600hL 25 13.6% -77.9% 80 n/a
GS450h 42 90.9% -35.4% 105 -49.0%
Civic 2,869 110.6% -23.9% 5,307 -27.5%
Escape 1,211 3.3% -32.0% 3,136 -31.6%
Mariner 140 14.8% -38.1% 389 -39.0%
Yukon 171 -3.6% -24.1% 516 129.4%
Malibu 547 177.7% n/a 889 n/a
Vue 362 92.6% 273.2% 703 318.5%
Tahoe 304 -3.6% 35.1% 918 308.2%
Aura 26 13.0% 30.0% 68 134.5%
Altima 834 80.1% 0.2% 1,941 5.8%
Escalade 134 -3.6% n/a 405 n/a
Silverado 68 44.7% n/a 122 n/a
All hybrids 21,443 33.8% -44.7% 52,896 -36.8%
All vehicles 857,982 24.4% -36.8% 2,204,657 -38.6%

U.S. hybrid sales for March 2009 by manufacturer and model

United States Sales by Make

U.S. hybrid market historical sales (1999 – 2009)

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 3,339
2 Florida 937
3 Washington 731
4 Illinois 725
5 New York 716
6 Texas 694
7 New Jersey 611
8 Virgnia 463
9 Pennsylvania 442
10 Massachusetts 414
11 Maryland 399
12 Arizona 388
13 Minnesota 382
14 Colorado 377
15 Ohio 370

*Registrations CYTD January 2009

States where hybrids are most popular

Rank State New Hybrids per 1000 Residents*
1 Washington 0.12
2 District of Columbia 0.10
3 California 0.09
4 Colorado 0.08
5 Minnesota 0.08
6 Maryland 0.07
7 Oregon 0.07
8 New Jersey 0.07
9 New Mexico 0.06
10 Massachusetts 0.06
11 Arizona 0.06
12 Virginia 0.06
13 Maine 0.06
14 Illinois 0.06
15 Florida 0.05
US State Average 0.05

*Registrations CYTD January 2009

Metropolitan areas with the highest hybrid sales

Rank Metropolitan Area New Hybrids*
1 Los Angeles 1,489
2 San Francisco 1,136
3 New York 1,080
4 Seattle 623
5 Chicago 587
6 Washington, DC 514
7 Philadelphia 443
8 Boston 408
9 Minneapolis-St. Paul 357
10 Denver 339
11 Phoenix 294
12 Atlanta 293
13 San Diego 277
14 Orlando 273
15 Portland, OR 225

*Registrations CYTD January 2009

Metropolitan areas where hybrids are most popular

Rank Metropolitan Area New Hybrids per 1000 Households*
1 Portland, OR 0.55
2 San Francisco 0.48
3 Seattle 0.37
4 San Diego 0.27
5 Los Angeles 0.27
6 Monterey, CA 0.27
7 Santa Barbara, CA 0.26
8 Denver 0.24
9 Bozeman, MT 0.24
10 Washington, DC 0.23
11 Lafayette, IN 0.22
12 Eugene, OR 0.22
13 Minneapolis 0.22
14 West Palm Beach 0.22
15 Autsin, TX 0.21
  US Metro Area Average 0.09

*Registrations CYTD January 2009

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  • Hybrid Reviews|Hybrid Future Cars

    Wow that good, I know a lot about hybrid car with the web to read this, hopefully more successful. Thanks you

  • hybridgreg

    I don’t think the data quite supports that statement about buyers only will buy hybrids if the cost gasoline rises. This implies that the only reason people would buy a hybrid is to save gas. Although gas is part of the story, the cost of ownership of a hybrid is less than a comparable gas engine car when the incentives, longer vehicle life, higher resale value, lower insurance rates, lower maintenance cos are taken into consideration.