Counting all makes and models of hybrid passenger cars and trucks sold in the United States, as of October the tally crossed the 3 million unit mark.

At the end of September, cumulative year-to-date hybrid sales were at 2,982,186 units since hybrids were first launched over a dozen years ago, and with October’s 33,561, the total based on U.S. government data and from Dashboards, is 3,015,751.

While that round number may seem just rosy – or fly past your attention like one more statistic splattered across a page – what we have now in several respects remains a new and growing market, and did not happen overnight.

The present-day U.S. hybrid market actually started as a trickle in 1999 when Honda sold its first few Insights making for a grand total of 17 hybrids sold to American consumers that year.

In model year 2000 the Insight’s total was 2,788 and a new car that had started sales in Japan in 1997 called the Toyota Prius splashed onto the scene with 5,562 units sold.

These were the only two hybrid models for sale that year and for 2001 which saw 4,725 Insights and 15,556 Prii sold as the Prius phenomenon began in earnest.

For 2002 and 2003 a total of three hybrids were offered with the third one being a Civic, and in 2004 along came modest sales from the Ford Escape (2,993 units), and the Accord Hybrid (1,061 units) which was discontinued three years later.

By 2005 the overall market started to heat up with eight hybrids in play, and the Prius doubled its 53,991 units sold in 2004 to 107,897 units in 2005 with other vehicles also accelerating into modest five-figure volumes.

In 2006, as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 signed into law by President George Bush, tax credits were offered for up to $3,400 for hybrid cars and $4,000 was allotted for compressed natural gas vehicles.

That boost lasted until Dec. 31, 2010 when the focal gaze of policymakers shifted to the new big thing – plug-in cars – which are still being helped along with heavier financial incentives on the federal and state level.

By the end of 2010 the hybrid market had blossomed to 29 models. On the low side, as few as 50 Saturn Vues were sold in 2010 and on the upper reaches, 140,928 units were sold of the – can you guess what model?

You are correct! It was the Prius, which towered above the next best-selling Honda Insight’s 20,962 and Ford Fusion Hybrid’s 20,816 in 2010.

Aside from the Honda and Ford that cracked past 20,000 units in 2010, no other hybrids went much above 15,000 units that year; the total at the beginning of this decade – as the reality is now – was comprised of incremental help from numerous offerings.

Since 2011, hybrid sales have been steadily increasing and today – not counting plug-in hybrids – hybrid passenger cars and truck constitute around 3 percent of America’s roughly 14.5-million vehicle market.

2011 was also the year the Prius crossed 1 million sold in the U.S. and now in its third generation, it continues to swing for the bleachers with around 4.5 times as many units sold per month than the next-best seller – these days the Prius c and Camry Hybrid have been trading places for second-highest.

This summer, as the “Prius Family” crossed 3 million global sales, Toyota did say its Prius sales would marginally decline for this year.

And while Toyota did not mention it, Ford has mentioned that its Fusion and C-Max hybrids and other electrified offerings are chipping into Toyota’s share.

But long term, Toyota is more than a little bullish on its “iconic” Prius and its trademarked “Hybrid Synergy Drive” (HSD) powertrain formula which is due to be adopted into versions of every single Toyota and Lexus car offered in coming years.

HSD has become such a substantial mpg booster/emissions slasher for any variant model, that Toyota is sidestepping mass-market electric cars, declaring them not ready for prime time, and instead projecting further growth for its hybrid offerings.

And coming back to the big picture, with increasing regulatory mandates by the federal government and states that follow California’s mandates, offerings by all automakers are projected to continue to increase.

This is where America is 14 years into it, and while yet a small percentage, the foothold carved out by hybrids – with Toyota accounting for around half – has industry watchers including the president of the Electric Drive Transportation Association telling us hybrid cars as a type are now “mainstream.”

A case to call hybrid cars and trucks “mainstream” does exist, but undoubtedly things do have a way to go.


Thanks to intrepid sales stat tracker and regular reader Emc2 for info used to document this article.