May 2008 Dashboard: Carmakers Neglect High Hybrid Demand

in partnership with Polk

Hybrids Worldwide

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

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

May hybrid sales were a mystery. Gas prices soared, so you would expect the most fuel-efficient vehicles to be selling at record numbers. Instead, May 2008 hybrid sales fell by nearly 25 percent compared to last year. Didn’t Toyota and the other hybrid makers see that oil broke past $100 per barrel on the first business day of the year? Didn’t they expect gas prices to spike at the beginning of driving season? Aren’t they doing scenario planning to prepare for golden opportunities like $4 gas? Isn’t Toyota trying to reach global sales of 1 million hybrids per year, as a way to reach economies of scale and lower the hybrid premium?

The only reasonable answer to these questions is: Yeah, but Toyota prefers to be very cautious. The company would rather neglect a short-term opportunity to pump up hybrid sales—in favor of slow and steady growth according to well-established plans. The result? Prius sales were down 38 percent compared to last year and Camry Hybrid sales dropped by 13 percent. Bear in mind that last year at this time, gas prices were relatively low, and industry pundits were declaring the death of hybrids as Toyota put consumer incentives on hybrids for the first time.

Honda, Ford, and General Motors were also locked into a pattern of limited availability. High oil and gas prices didn’t budge their lackluster commitment to hybrids. The general malaise in the car market didn’t help. Year-to-year sales of all vehicles were down 11 percent as fewer buyers visit showrooms in tough economic times.

Although the carmakers are unable to capitalize on this year’s hybrid fever, they used the opportunity to announce new future hybrids in the works. Honda’s global compact hybrid is due in 2009. The redesigned Prius is also expected in 2009, with two new hybrids also in the works. And all varieties of gas-electric, plug-in hybrid, diesel, and all-electric models are promised in 2010 and beyond. This will further stimulate the saliva glands of consumer thirsty for groundbreaking fuel-efficient options during the current oil shock.

In the meanwhile, where will consumers go to satisfy their appetites? For those who can’t wait and those on a tight budget, the answer is small conventional cars. In May, the Honda Civic beat out the F-150 pickup truck to become the top-selling vehicle in America. Small cars will remain hot throughout the year. And for those with patience, get to the back of the hybrid waiting list and expected to wait for several months.

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 U.S. (May 2008): 35,661

US hybrid sales for May 2008

Model Units vs. last month vs. May 2007 CYTD vs. CYTD 2007
Altima 1,607 100.6% 95.7% 4,242 115.1%
Prius 15,011 -31.0% -37.5% 79,675 3.8%
Civic 4,676 8.1% 3.5% 16,322 17.5%
Accord 16 -36.0% -96.4% 184 -89.2%
Camry 5,999 -10.2% -12.5% 25,295 12.2%
Highlander 2,644 2.6% -20.2% 11,542 -3.1%
RX400h 2,155 32.7% 23.4% 7,708 8.6%
GS450h 98 19.5% -45.9% 386 -55.3%
LS600hL 112 -8.2% n/a 564 n/a
Escape 2,139 27.2% -20.2% 8,408 -9.1%
Mariner 239 6.2% -55.2% 1,102 -34.9%
Vue 340 750.0% -81.4% 548 -58.3%
Aura 36 800.0% -78.8% 69 -67.5%
Tahoe 295* 326.8% n/a 699 n/a
Yukon 295* 501.0% n/a 664 n/a
All hybrids 35,661 -11.0% -24.3% 155,958 4.5%
All vehicles 1,397,410 11.9% -10.7% 6,224,480 -8.4%

* Estimated

U.S. hybrid sales for May 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 20,213
2 Florida 4,951
3 New York 4,553
4 Texas 4,341
5 Illinois 3,438
6 Washington 2,974
7 Virginia 2,962
8 Pennsylvania 2,782
9 Massachusetts 2,436
10 Arizona 2,426
11 New Jersey 2,308
12 Maryland 2,063
13 Ohio 1,974
14 Colorado 1,691
15 North Carolina 1,664

*Registrations CYTD March 2008

States where hybrids are most popular

Rank State New Hybrids per 1000 Residents*
1 District of Columbia 0.836
2 California 0.559
3 Washington 0.473
4 Oregon 0.452
5 Vermont 0.427
6 Arizona 0.408
7 Connecticut 0.395
8 Virginia 0.391
9 Massachusetts 0.381
10 New Hampshire 0.369
11 Maryland 0.368
12 Colorado 0.362
13 Nevada 0.362
14 Minnesota 0.317
15 Hawaii 0.315
US State Average 0.266

*Registrations CYTD March 2008

Metropolitan areas with the highest hybrid sales

Rank Metropolitan Area New Hybrids*
1 Los Angeles 9,117
2 San Francisco 5,699
3 New York 5,330
4 Washington, DC 3,212
5 Chicago 2,748
6 Boston 2,478
7 Seattle 2,473
8 Philadelphia 2,261
9 Phoenix 2,095
10 San Diego 1,816
11 Sacramento, CA 1,699
12 Denver 1,482
13 Minneapolis-St. Paul 1,477
14 Dallas-Ft. Worth 1,413
15 Portland, OR 1,379

*Registrations CYTD March 2008

Metropolitan areas where hybrids are most popular

Rank Metropolitan Area New Hybrids per 1000 Households*
1 Portland, OR 3.388
2 San Francisco 2.419
3 Santa Barbara, CA 1.922
4 Monterey, CA 1.889
5 San Diego 1.770
6 Charlottesville, VA 1.649
7 Los Angeles 1.647
8 Seattle 1.453
9 Washington, DC 1.426
10 Sacramento, CA 1.262
11 Phoenix 1.262
12 Palm Springs, CA 1.233
13 Eugene, OR 1.199
14 Las Vegas 1.104
15 Helena, MT 1.085
  US Metro Area Average 0.572

*Registrations CYTD March 2008


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