May 2009 Dashboard: Hybrids Bouncing Back

in partnership with Polk

Sales of the Toyota Prius broke the 10,000 mark for the first time since October 2008. Sales of Ford hybrids—the Fusion Hybrid and Escape Hybrid—jumped by 75 percent and 62 percent respectively compared to the previous month. And that pales by comparison to Japan’s hybrid market, which is red hot.

Analysis of May 2009 Sales Numbers

Hybrids Worldwide

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

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

In almost every way, hybrid sales boomed in May. Sure, sales of gas-electric vehicles were down compared to a year ago, when gas prices soared and US buyers went into a frenzied and radical (albeit temporary) shift toward fuel efficiency. But those times are receding in the rear view mirror, and a new pattern of growth in the hybrid market is emerging.

Sales of the Toyota Prius, which continues to dominate, broke the 10,000 mark for the first time since October 2008. Sales of Ford hybrids—the Fusion Hybrid and Escape Hybrid—jumped by 75 percent and 62 percent respectively compared to the previous month. The list of hybrids continues to break between solid and steady players—including the Honda Insight, Honda Civic Hybrid, Toyota Camry Hybrid, and Toyota Highlander Hybrid—and a field of expensive larger vehicles with relatively low fuel efficiency improvements compared to conventional models.

GM’s announcement that it will discontinue the Chevy Malibu Hybrid and Saturn Hybrids, indicates that low-selling hybrid models can quickly disappear during this period of economic turmoil in the auto industry. The fact that Honda discontinued two hybrid models in recent years, the original Honda Insight and the Honda Accord Hybrid—only to re-launch the Insight as one of the top-selling hybrid models—shows how automakers can successfully take a trial-and-error approach to find a winning combination of price, features and fuel efficiency.

Dealers sold 25,693 hybrids last month, up from 21,735 in April. That’s an 18.2 percent rise from April to May, outpacing the 12.9 percent increase in the overall car market.

The biggest news in hybrid sales continues to come from Japan. In cumulative 2009 sales through March, Japanese car buyers bought 26,656 hybrids—a little more than half the number of hybrids bought by US consumers. The 2-to-1 ratio is a significant jump from 2007—when the ration of US to Japan sales was more than 5-to-1. High gas taxes and generous incentives in Japan—two factors almost completely missing in the US—will mean the gap between the two markets will continue to close. (American legislators hoping to stir sales of green cars in the US should take note of the Japanese model.)

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 (May 2009): 25,693

US hybrid sales for May 2009

Model Units vs. last month vs. May 2008 CYTD vs. CYTD 2008
Prius 10,091 20.3% -32.8% 42,753 -46.3%
Insight 2,780 32.6% n/a 5,445 n/a
Fusion 1,877 74.9% n/a 3,352 n/a
Milan 202 119.6% n/a 343 n/a
Camry 2,941 33.8% 51.0% 10,914 -60.3%
Highlander 1,351 44.8% -48.9% 10,914 -54.4%
RX400h 393 -40.0% -81.8% 5,271 -31.6%
LS600hL 27 42.1% -75.9% 126 n/a
GS450h 43 30.3% -56.1% 181 -53.1%
Civic 2,077 -38.2% -55.6% 10,745 -34.2%
Escape 1,702 62.2% -20.4% 5,887 -30.0%
Mariner 125 47.1% -47.7% 599 -45.6%
Yukon 157 7.0% -35.8% 820 58.1%
Malibu 706 29.1% n/a 2,142 n/a
Vue 227 -32.8% -33.2% 1,268 131.4%
Tahoe 277 6.1% -19.6% 1,457 128.1%
Aura 35 12.9% -2.8% 134 94.2%
Altima 345 55.4% -78.5% 2,508 40.9%
Escalade 207 79.6% n/a 728 n/a
Silverado 130 36.8% n/a 347 n/a
All hybrids 25,693 18.2% -28.0% 100,322 -37.1%
All vehicles 925,824 12.9% -33.7% 3,950,298 -36.7%

US hybrid sales for May 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 11,879
2 Texas 2,939
3 New York 2,922
4 Florida 2,902
5 Illinois 2,258
6 Washington 2,125
7 New Jersey 1,999
8 Virgnia 1,791
9 Pennsylvania 1,690
10 Massachusetts 1,679
11 Maryland 1,523
12 Ohio 1,381
13 Arizona 1,276
14 Colorado 1,190
15 Georgia 1,074

*Registrations CYTD March 2009

States where hybrids are most popular

Rank State New Hybrids per 1000 Residents*
1 District of Columbia 0.445
2 Washington 0.338
3 California 0.329
4 Vermont 0.281
5 Maryland 0.272
6 Massachusetts 0.262
7 Colorado 0.255
8 New Hampshire 0.250
9 Virginia 0.237
10 New Jersey 0.229
11 Oregon 0.224
12 Arizona 0.215
13 Connecticut 0.213
14 New Mexico 0.197
15 Minnesota 0.185
US State Average 0.185

*Registrations CYTD March 2009

Metropolitan areas with the highest hybrid sales

Rank Metropolitan Area New Hybrids*
1 Los Angeles 5,733
2 New York 3,940
3 San Francisco 3,604
4 Washington, DC 2,062
5 Chicago 1,830
6 Seattle 1,780
7 Boston 1,752
8 Philadelphia 1,442
9 Phoenix 1,078
10 Denver 1,045
11 Dallas-Ft. Worth 1,008
12 San Diego 951
13 Minneapolis-St. Paul 897
14 Atlanta 891
15 Baltimore 849

*Registrations CYTD March 2009

Metropolitan areas where hybrids are most popular

Rank Metropolitan Area New Hybrids per 1000 Households*
1 Portland, OR 1.732
2 San Francisco 1.530
3 Seattle 1.046
4 Los Angeles 1.036
5 Lafayette, IN 1.011
6 San Diego 0.927
7 Washington, DC 0.915
8 Monterey, CA 0.913
9 Baltimore 0.779
10 Santa Barbara, CA 0.776
11 Austin 0.775
12 Denver 0.738
13 Boston 0.738
14 Burlington, VT 0.660
15 Charlottesville, VA 0.659
  US Metro Area Average 0.330

*Registrations CYTD March 2009


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