October 2009 Dashboard: Hybrid Sales Regain Momentum

October 2009 Hybrid Car Sales Numbers

For October, we offer an abbreviated version of our Hybrid Market Dashboard. The full dashboard, with geo-based data, will return in December.

As we approach the end of 2009—the worst year for overall auto sales in decades—the picture for this year’s hybrid sales becomes clearer. Hybrids are dramatically outperforming the market as a whole. Incentive programs like Cash for Clunkers, as well as factory incentives, uneven inventory, changes in gas prices and new model introductions have skewed sales numbers up and down in recent months. But the auto industry’s movement toward fuel efficiency and hybrids is regaining momentum.

If current trends continue, hybrid sales could end the year relatively flat compared to last year, while the overall market suffers a decline of about 20 percent. These conditions prepare the way for growth in 2010, when Hyundai, Mercedes and BMW (as well as Dodge and Porsche) start selling hybrids—and Honda adds one or two more small hybrids. The new introductions, and potentially higher gas priced, could return hybrids to the steep growth curve experienced from 2000 to 2007, before the economic downturn took its toll.

In October, hybrid sales were up by 22 percent compared to last month, and 11 percent compared to October 2008. Year-to-date hybrids sales remain about 12 percent lower than a year ago.

Incentives & Inventories

All popular hybrids—those that commonly sell more than a few hundred per month—saw gains in October compared to last month. The one exception was sales of the Honda Insight, which were flat. The 2010 Toyota Prius, assisted by a small factory incentive, remained by far the segment leader, accounting for 55 percent of all hybrid sales for the month.

Any remaining question about the Prius fighting off a threat by the 2010 Honda Insight was put to rest. Prius outsold the Honda Insight by a margin of 8 to 1—throwing into question Honda’s ability to offer small affordable hybrids to compete with Toyota and Ford’s rising hybrid program. In fact, there are rumors that Honda will bring back the Honda Accord Hybrid, a midsize sedan to stack up against the Toyota Camry Hybrid and the Ford Fusion Hybrid.

Some analysts believe that the aftershocks of Cash for Clunkers are still being felt: producing a dip in sales in September due to low inventory after Cash for Clunkers boosted hybrid sales and cleared inventory—pushing relative sales up in October when inventories returned. Lack of inventory continues to plague sales of clean diesel cars, which continue to lag behind hybrids. Volkswagen sold 4,008 TDI vehicles in October. That represents an impressive 24 percent of total VW sales, but the field of clean diesels remains uneven.

Factory incentives were mostly applied to slow-selling luxury hybrids: Dealers offered $10,000 on the super pricey 2009 LS 600h L and a similar amount on the 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid, as well as pricey hybrid trucks from Chevy and GMC.

The Numbers

Hybrids sold in the US (October 2009): 24,475

US hybrid sales for October 2009

Model Units vs. last month vs. October 2008 CYTD vs. CYTD 2008
Prius 13,496 22.9% 14.3% 118,290 16.9%
Insight 1,739 -0.4% n/a 17,530 n/a
RX400h 1,567 34.2% 154.8% 11,656 -11.1%
HS 250h 1,527 22.9% n/a 3,312 n/a
Camry 1,407 61.4% -49.6% 19,909 -52.8%
Fusion 1,226 9.9% n/a 12,694 n/a
Escape 868 10.3% -51.3% 12,877 -14.0%
Highlander 700 160.2% -31.5% 9,335 -46.9%
Tahoe 391 39.6% 5.1% 2,857 5.7%
Altima 299 -13.3% -46.0% 8,012 3.3%
Civic 239 57.2% -85.3% 14,405 -50.7%
Yukon 215 47.3% 11.4% 1,563 -9.3%
Escalade 186 -1.6% -19.1 1,639 409%
Silverado 167 39.2% n/a 1,163 n/a
Malibu 114 -26.9% -64.9% 3,818 119.6%
Milan 107 -25.7% n/a 1,241 n/a
Mariner 81 11.0% -62.3% 1,486 -27.4%
Vue 56 -37.8% -84.2% 2,336 2.7%
GS450h 39 2.6% 77.3% 378 -35.4%
Aura 30 0.0% 36.4% 339 63.8%
LS600hL 21 75.0% -61.8% 228 -74.5
All hybrids 24,475 22.5% 11.4% 245,109 -12.5%
All vehicles 837,800 12.4% 0.1% 8,652,150 -25.5%

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  • brian raffetto

    I have a 2007 hchii, and like it more then the Prius, I just like it better, the price was lower and the mileage not that different. I get 45.9 ltmpg. 90% around town driving.

    I think that most people, when looking for a Hybrid, rightly or wrongly, think only of the Prius. Maybe it is because of the advertising dollars spent on it?

    If more people even knew that Honda sells a hybrid they would sell more. The lack of sells is not because the Honda’s are a bad choice of a hybrid, people think only about the Pruis when looking for a hybrid.

    My grandfather use to say, “if everyone like vanilla, it would be a strange world to live in”

    Just my .02

  • joe bob

    Is Toyota going to FINALLY put their supply-chain issues to to bed so they can meet improved market demand? They said they would do this with the 2010 model when they could not meet demand back in 2008-9, but I keep seeing reports they are not able get the kinks worked out???

  • Old Man Crowder

    I’m with Brian. I’ve seen a pile of commercials for the Prius but nothing for the Insight. In fact, I think the only advertisements for hybrids that I’ve seen are for the Prius, Fusion and RX400h.

    Doing business without marketing is like winking in the dark. You know you’re doing it, but nobody else does.

  • Robert055

    As the economy improves, Americans will continue looking to hybrids for long-term savings. They cost more in the short-term (a few grand more than their non-hybrid counterparts) but the fuel savings and environmental impact are worth it long-term.

  • Nelson Lu

    I’ve certainly seen a fair amount of Insight (and previously, Civic) hybrid advertisements here in Northern California.

    But the problem with Honda’s hybrids is similar to the problem with GM’s hybrids: they are technologically inferior to Ford’s and Toyota’s (and Nissan’s, although Nissan’s volume is very low, and the technology was obviously licensed from Toyota), and given that they don’t have any real advantage over Ford and Toyota, why should people buy them? (I realize that there is a price difference, but I don’t think the price difference is sufficient.)

  • Max Reid

    There is Full, Partial & Mild hybrids in the market.
    For some reason, the Hybrid buyers have settled on Full Hybrid.

    Thats why Toyota & Ford with their Full Hybrids remain the Top-2 sellers.
    Even for GM, its their Full Hybrids are selling well even though they are big SUV’s.

    Now to create a real competition to Prius, all it needs is for
    Ford or GM to apply their Hybrid powertrain in one of their hatchback and sell it
    at an affordable price.

    After all when a big sedan like Fusion Hybrid can get 41 MPG, if available in smaller
    model will hit 50 MPG.

    Then the price of Prius will also come down and the Hybrid sales will skyrocket.

  • Jim Bussell

    Old man chowder has a point!

  • nycsolar

    How is it that in 2009, only 3% of the cars sold are hybrids. That’s ridiculous. Humanity deserves to go extinct. It’s a complete failure to adapt to changing conditions.