Entire history books could one day be devoted to the auto industry’s seismic shift in 2008. Yet, the May sales numbers tell the whole story:

  • The Honda Civic, a compact car available with either a hybrid or gasoline engine, displaced Ford’s F-series pickup truck as the month’s best-selling vehicle
  • The three Detroit automakers were outsold for the first time ever by their Asian rivals
  • A passenger sedan—not a truck—was the top-selling vehicle in the United States for the first time in 16 years
  • Most industry analysts expected a shift in car buying patterns, resulting from high gas prices—but the immediate and dramatic effect of $4 gas caught car companies, including Toyota, by surprise.

    Sales for the Toyota’s Prius, the most popular hybrid vehicle, were off from 24,009 units a year ago to 15,011 vehicles in May. The drop was due to limited availability of the Prius, Toyota said. The head of Toyota Motor sales, Bob Carter, said the company had been hindered by production constraints and that the Prius was selling as quickly as they could be built. “Dealer stock for Prius is best measured in hours rather than days,” Mr. Carter said.