March Market Dashboard: Bill Ford Was Right

in partnership with Polk

Hybrids Worldwide

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

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

Hybrid sales in March 2008 continued to defy gravity. In an overall vehicle market that shrunk by more than 12 percent compared to a year ago, sales of hybrids grew by more than 10 percent. The gains were not evenly spread. Ford and General Motors, as domestic automakers, are apparently suffering from not having enough hybrids to meet demand.

Sales of the Ford Escape Hybrid and Mercury Mariner Hybrid were down 18 percent and 34 percent respectively compared to last year. Media reports, and visitors posting to, indicated that many buyers were turned away due to lack of inventory or high dealer premiums.

In 2006, Ford Motor Company abandoned Bill Ford’s goal of selling 250,000 hybrids per year by 2010. The company dropped that goal after a few months of lackluster sales in 2006. But if the company had exhibited greater resolve, a willingness to lose money with each sale until economies of scale could be reached, and a plan to develop a domestic supply for hybrid batteries, then the Escape Hybrid might have become the Prius of SUVs.

Ford currently sources batteries from Sanyo in Japan. As a result, batteries—the most expensive component in a hybrid system—are coming at an increasing cost to Ford due to a weak dollar. GM also has battery woes. Cobasys, which supplies battery packs for Saturn hybrids and the Malibu Hybrid, was put on GM’s distressed supplier list after the company was left with no operating budget for this fiscal year.

Meanwhile, hybrid versions of mainstream models, like the Civic, Camry, and Altima, did well in March. More details about this and sales numbers in our “Looking Forward” section below.

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. (March 2008): 38,214

US hybrid sales for March 2008

Model Units vs. 2/08 vs. 3/07
Altima 832 57.3% 80.1%
Prius 20,635 89.4% 7.7%
Civic 3,769 108.5% 34.0%
Accord 53 26.2% -86.2%
Camry 6,930 68.2% 34.7%
Highlander 2,239 15.5% -10.5%
RX400h 1,570 36.8% 6.7%
GS450h 65 -15.6% -64.1%
LS600hL 113 0.9% n/a
Escape 1,782 18.1% -18.2%
Mariner 226 -3.4% -34.3%
All hybrids 38,214 70.3% 10.3%
All vehicles 1,357,281 15.4% -12.0%

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

United States Sales by Make

U.S. hybrid market historical sales (1999 – 2007 with 2008 forecast)

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 5,769
2 Florida 1,468
3 New York 1,433
4 Texas 1,223
5 Illinois 1,054
6 Arizona 991
7 Pennsylvania 881
8 Virginia 752
9 Washington 743
10 New Jersey 688
11 Massachusetts 652
12 Ohio 582
13 Maryland 572
14 Colorado 517
15 Minnesota 453

*Registrations CYTD January 2008

States where hybrids are most popular

Rank State New Hybrids per 1000 Residents*
1 District of Columbia 0.327
2 Arizona 0.167
3 California 0.160
4 Nevada 0.146
5 Hawaii 0.124
6 Connecticut 0.121
7 Oregon 0.120
8 Washington 0.118
9 Delaware 0.114
10 Colorado 0.11
11 Vermont 0.108
12 Maryland 0.102
13 Massachusetts 0.102
14 Virginia 0.099
15 Rhode Island 0.090
US State Average 0.078

*Registrations CYTD January 2008

Metropolitan areas with the highest hybrid sales

Rank Metropolitan Area New Hybrids*
1 Los Angeles 2,565
2 San Francisco 1,713
3 New York 1,672
4 Washington, DC 908
5 Phoenix 870
6 Chicago 850
7 Philadelphia 733
8 Seattle 635
9 San Diego 615
10 Denver 536
11 Sacramento, CA 450
12 Dallas-Ft. Worth 437
13 Minneapolis-St. Paul 420
14 Orlando 413
15 Portland, OR 381

*Registrations CYTD January 2008

Metropolitan areas where hybrids are most popular

Rank Metropolitan Area New Hybrids per 1000 Households*
1 Portland, OR 0.882
2 San Francisco, CA 0.727
3 Santa Barbara, CA 0.615
4 Helena, MT 0.524
5 San Diego 0.524
6 Monterey, CA 0.522
7 Las Vegas 0.514
8 Washington, DC 0.488
9 Honolulu 0.463
10 Juneau, AK 0.403
11 Seattle 0.381
12 Charlotteville, VA 0.373
13 Eugene, OR 0.361
14 Palm Springs, CA 0.358
15 Sacramenta, CA 0.358
  US Metro Area Average 0.161

*Registrations CYTD January 2008

Looking Ahead

March sales numbers showed that hybrid versions of mainstream models—Camry, Civic and Altima—can perform quite well. If this trend continues, the need for hybrid-specific models might need to be reconsidered. The formula for success can be simplified: reasonably priced, decent gain in fuel economy, and a relatively new design. The Prius is still the engine pulling the hybrid train, but the engine is getting old and can’t be expected to pull quite as hard as it used to.

The exchange rate may eventually cause problems for the Toyota Prius and other hybrid models manufactured overseas. If the dollar continues its decline, Toyota will be faced with a tough choice: accept slimmer margins on a popular vehicle, or increase MSRP and risk scaring away customers.

Since the US is the world’s largest hybrid market, it makes sense that automakers consider locating more hybrid production and battery manufacturing to American shores.

The weak dollar led Audi to cancel its hybrid plans. Given economic trends, it will be increasingly difficult for new players to enter the hybrid game.

Hybrid versions of mainstream models may start to dominate the hybrid market—given the need for automakers to produce hybrids in enough numbers to meet demand and to become profitable by achieving economies of scale.

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  • VaPrius

    That explains why Toyota announced plans to build the Prius in the states. The Prius is due for a redesign, and needs one, but it is still the most advanced vehicle out there. Audi? Didn’t they used to make cars?

  • Dom

    VaPrius – you are obviously lost in your little Toyota world… Audi makes great cars! They may have canceled their hybrid plans, but they’re getting ready to bring their clean diesel’s to the states.

  • Boom Boom

    Good to see GM on the board with their new hybrid releases…. Oh wait, you can’t actually BUY any of them. Way to go GM. If they spent half of what they do on advertising “green cars” on building them, maybe they’d get somewhere.

  • GoTOY

    I agree, Prius is due for a redesign. But, I don’t agree that the rate of exchange will affect hybrid sales. Afterall, that same rate of exchange will apply to toyoyta’s Hybrid and non-hybrid models. Key is reduction of the Gap between both.
    If that gap approaches or breaks the $1000, it will be tough for anyone to make the argument of purchasing non-hybrid.

  • Inwiththenew

    Poeple keep saying the Prius needs a redesign. Why? Is it that it doesn’t work anymore? I think it’s just because we’ve been trained that cars have to be replaced and that they have to look different after a very few years. We’ve been conditioned to think that a design looks old and looks unappealing and that somehow makes it inferior to a new design that comes along. The annual model year change comes not from necessity but is motivated by profit. We cannot continue to toss perfectly good tools every time a prettier one comes along.

  • observer


    The reason why a lot of people want the Prius redesign is because Toyota has been working on improved technology for Prius and other hybrids in their lineup. A lot of the clamor is for the better technology. Imagine if the next gen Prius had a fuel efficiency of 70-75 mpg average instead of current 45-50 mpg, the demand for the car would go up even more. Plus, the hybrid price premium is supposed to drop as well with the next gen Prius. If both circumstances are happen, it would not only encourage more first time buyers but, a lot of current owners to upgrade. So for me it about being excited for an improved Prius, not just a “different” looking Prius.

    It would also have the advantage of silencing a lot of current hybrid critics. The payback time on the hybrid premium would be quicker and everyone who owns the next gen Prius would be giving a lot less of their money to big oil. At the 2009 North American Detroit Auto Show, we will see how much the next gen Prius has improved from the current one. Hopefully, it’s a big jump like the last time.

  • KS

    Who do you stop reporting GM’s sales of Vue hybrids and Aura hybrids as you did before? is it because the numbers are zero in March or because it’s not available now?

  • C Guella

    Audi clean diesel will fail in the US because no one cares about clean diesel. Audi and Ford both made a mistake in their hybrid programs. Diesel is very expensive here and has a bad stigma going back to when the US manufacturers tried to convert gasoline cars to diesel. People understand MPG and cost per gallon.

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