Perspective: 2013 US Hybrid Market
Now 13 years since one little hybrid hatchback model was imported by Honda from Japan to America and began a new automotive category, 2013 saw more incremental growth and a new high-water mark of nearly a half-million hybrids sold.
Today there are 19 brands selling a total of 46 hybrid models of all varieties including sports cars and SUVs, but the bulk of hybrid sales are from five automakers accounting for 12 of these brands.
These top-five offer a total of 28 models and their combined volume adds to 484,760 vehicles out of the 495,685 total hybrids sold in 2013.
This may not be as completely disproportional as it could seem however, as upscale brands offering hybrids like Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, BMW, Audi, and Infiniti don’t sell near the volume of, say, Toyota, Ford, or Honda even for their non-hybrid models.
Nissan and Volkswagen do have some catching up to do, however, and it appears they have begun this, too.
Among automakers selling the largest numbers, progress can definitely be shown.
As of December 2013, hybrid vehicles’ U.S. market share was 3.19 percent of the 15.53-million market which includes all passenger cars and trucks through to Class 3, which consists of trucks up to 14,000 pounds GVW.
This 3.19 percent hybrid share in 2013 was an increase over a “take rate” of 3.01 percent in 2012, 2.51 percent in 2011, and 2.50 percent in 2010. Naturally also, the aggregate automotive market grew as well from 11.59 million passenger cars and trucks in 2010, to 15.53 million in 2013.
Thus also telling is the hybrid volume increase. Almost 496,00 hybrids for 2013 compares to 434,498 hybrids in 2012, 268,807 in 2011, and 274,763 in 2010.
Counting discontinued models carried on for the record, our Dashboard lists 50 hybrids. Of 2013’s 46 selling hybrid vehicles, this compares to 45 selling hybrids in 2012, 33 in 2011, and 30 in 2010.
By general definition, hybrids counted are dual-powertrain gas-electric vehicles ranging from mild such as GM’s eAssist cars to full hybrid like Toyota sells.
April: Over 5 million Toyota Motor Corp. hybrids sold worldwide (Toyota and Lexus)
July: 3 million Toyota Prius sold worldwide.
October: 3 million hybrid electric vehicles sold since the 1999 launch of the Honda Insight.
October: 1.5 million units of Prius family (Liftback, Prius c and Prius v) sold in the U.S.
Why Not More Growth?
Things are up, but since their inception, there’s been resistance for various reasons, including unawareness of the benefits or how hybrid technology works, inability to find a model that suits a given need, or other perceptions.
Of the 20 hybrids that sold fewer than 100 units in December 2013, some of these present less-clear competition to petrol alternatives.
Above that cut-off, annual sales volume is much higher. Many consumers however still focus on lower monthly payments or sticker prices for conventional cars without weighing all costs of ownership that could make a hybrid a better buy.
Historically, Americans have reacted to fuel price spikes by increasing gas-miser sales.
In 1999, gas averaged $1.37 per gallon, but this year gas was still considered relatively cheap even though it sold for 2.5-times that in the middle $3-dollar range.
According to Wards data, Americans in 2013 opted for proportionally more light-duty trucks and SUVs, which ate into the number of passenger car sales of all types, including hybrids.
Among imports, U.S. consumers in 2012 bought 2,125,325 cars, and 1,060,720 trucks. Compare that to 2013: 2,189,781 cars, and 1,243,591 trucks.
That’s 182,871 more import trucks in 2013 over 2012, and only 64,456 more import cars.
Among domestics, U.S. consumers in 2012 bought 5,118,329 cars and 6,137,440 trucks. In 2013, it was 5,396,086 cars and 6,702,151 trucks.
That’s 564,711 more domestic trucks in 2013 over 2012, and only 277,757 more domestic cars.
Americans still love their trucks even with gas cresting up to $4 per gallon in places, and with uncertainty of price increases for future years.
In other cases, regular petrol cars got the nod over hybrids.
“Hybrids may be losing some of their luster as the technology on mainstream gas-powered vehicles improves both in terms of performance and fuel economy,” said Michigan-based automotive analyst, Alan Baum.
Other factors slowing hybrid sales include new alternative-tech competition, including from diesels and plug-in hybrids.
Green cars as a type are expanding. Some early hybrid adopters have moved on to plug-in cars which promise superior shorter range mileage, not to mention reduced emissions.
You can expect to see more hybrid models introduced as automakers brace for regulations mandating improved fleet emissions and mpg averages.
At the same time, demand ought also to remain strong. A nationwide Navigant survey done this past fall shows two-thirds of Americans do approve of hybrids as a general technological type.
Many consumers remain on the fence for various reasons, however. It will remain incumbent on automakers to offer clearly improved mpg over conventional alternatives, and price these vehicles effectively.
Certainly, however, the increased selection of hybrids cannot hurt.
No longer are hybrid vehicles only super-frugal, perceptibly wimpy cars. Choices exist now from 200-horsepower family cars that compare well to gas counterparts, to 300-plus horsepower vehicles to a few elite supercars with up to triple that.
There are now hybrids available to meet more needs and wants than ever before.