We keep hearing it, and numbers don’t lie: the market for hybrid-electric and alternative fueled vehicles is growing, and in a recent data mining exercise, Ward’s Auto commented on the continued expansion.

Most noteworthy perhaps, is from 2011 to 2012 a 64-percent spike in U.S. consumer sales of hybrids took place with sales, according to Ward’s data, of 427,605 units last year compared to 261,507 in 2011. (Actually, the HybridCars.com Dashboard according to numbers supplied by AutoData and Baum & Associates says 268,807 in calendar year 2011 and 434,498 in 2012, but we digress …)

However you slice it, the alternative-tech market has been slowly advancing upwards for some time – and with these vehicles now at around 3.3-percent share of the total U.S. market as Wards counts it, this means it still has a long way to go, but the pace of progress is picking up. Wards noted for the decade of 1999-2009, alternative-fueled vehicles as a segment grew to 2.8 percent, then spiked to the 3.3 they are at now.

As a segment furthermore, Wards observes hybrids sold better than “all but a handful” of vehicle segments and this includes three SUV categories, small cross/utility vehicles and midsize luxury cars.

At this point, it seems like every global manufacturer is jumping into the hybrid and alternative energy pool, and this includes Europeans and Americans not to mention he Japanese and Koreans making alternative vehicles in all categories.

Some are mildly sprinkling in electrified or otherwise advanced-tech offerings to whittle down their average fleet economy numbers, others are showing they are more committed, and others, like Toyota and Infiniti, are aiming to have a hybrid variant of every model offered.

Terms like “fun to drive” and “high performance” are also being used to describe some alternative-fueled vehicles whose primary mission remains saving fuel and reducing emissions.

Given that electric motors can do for a gas or diesel engine what a turbo or supercharger can do – add speed – this is not so surprising. In the all-electric category, while most of the yet-few EVs are still just so-so speed-wise, Tesla is pushing the bounds, and has just set a record for production EVs in the quarter mile.

Beyond powertrain engineering, the chassis engineers and designers are also adding to the total package so mid-grade alternative-tech vehicles are offering far more satisfying driver experiences. Cars like the Camry Hybrid, or VW Jetta Hybrid demand no compromises in driver expectations just so they can be green.

And beyond hybrids, also adding to the growing alternative category are diesels. While the U.S. is far behind Europe in adopting them, they are coming along, which Autoblog also observed countering some of Ward’s analysis.

Autoblog noted of Ward’s observation of 2.8 to 3.3 percent growth of “alternative fuel” vehicles that within this count were over 100,000 diesels sold by Audi and Volkswagen, and over 11,000 all-electric car sales.

This may be so, but we’re not quite so sure we can agree with Autoblog when it says “All of that means that true hybrid market share was less than three percent for 2012 – and closer to the 2009 levels – despite having a much improved total volume in a much improved car market.”

Not to quibble, but we’ll just read the numbers from our our monthly Dashboard. It clearly says hybrids in calendar year 2012 accounted for 3.01 percent of all North American auto sales.

Again, this is a small market, and splitting hairs is not the aim here. The real take-away message is that consumer choice combined with broader selection by automakers, pushed also by looming government-imposed efficiency mandates is broadening the alternative energy transportation market.

We expect to see more growth, probably at a faster rate in coming years.

True, the respective “alternative” segments yet represent a small minority. But they’ve paid a lot of dues, having been critically panned in cases as boring, frumpy, slow, quirky, and fraught with compromise. Many hybrids and alternative vehicles yet eek out miniscule numbers month after month, with the lion’s share of the sales volume being taken by other more standout performers.

While criticisms have had some merit, and as Autoblog observes, the market is “still struggling” in a sense, that picture is changing, and alternative energy transportation is advancing.

It’s been a long enough wind-up period, but the underlying reasons remain as to why development of these alternative technologies were first embarked upon, including concerns over waning petroleum supplies, rising fuel prices, potential geopolitical instability, need for energy security, desire for reduction of greenhouse gases, and more.

So, despite the inertia still relegating alternative-tech to fringe status, and with more challenges yet to overcome, they appear to be on the rise with no slowing of the pace in sight.

Wards Auto, Autoblog