October 2006 Looking Ahead

In October, the Camry Hybrid became Toyota’s first North-American-built hybrid vehicle. That’s one reason that the Camry hybrid is the vehicle to watch moving forward. By wrapping high fuel economy in a larger, more luxurious package than previous hybrid sedans, the Camry Hybrid has drawn new buyers to the hybrid market. After its introduction last April, Camry Hybrid sales quickly rose from zero to 5,000 units in just four months. However, October’s Camry Hybrid sales numbers fell below Toyota’s target of 4,000 units/month. Could the Camry Hybrid follow the same path as Toyota’s hybrid SUVs, which were well-received soon after launch, but have since experienced lower sales? One month hardly makes a trend. We’ll need to wait and see how the Camry Hybrid performs in November (and beyond).

Another vehicle to watch in November is Saturn’s VUE Green Line. In many ways, the VUE GL embodies a "low-technology, low-cost" strategy that is the opposite of bestselling hybrids like the Prius. But since other manufacturer’s hybrid SUVs have not exactly been flying off of dealership lots, we’re interested to see whether a vehicle with a different approach might have more success. Although the VUE Green Line went on sale in October, General Motors decided not to release separate sales figures for this hybrid model. Why is G.M. mum about sales figures? Are they hiding good news or bad? Hopefully, the story will come out in November.

Finally, next month may mark the end of Honda Insight sales. The Insight launched the U.S. hybrid market in 1999, and now it has become the first to depart the hybrid stage. Production of the Insight has already ended, but sales of remaining units continue to trickle in. In October, dealers moved nine units. If any stock still remains, one lucky November buyer may have the honor of driving the last new Honda Insight off a dealership lot.