in partnership with Polk

Sales of hybrid models in February fared somewhat better than the overall market—falling “only” 29 percent. Incentive spending on all vehicles ballooned as manufacturers desperately tried to “move metal.”

Hybrid Heatmap

In this month’s version, we take a look at where buyers purchased luxury hybrids in 2008. We use $40,000 as the cutoff, so that means buyers of all Lexus hybrid models, as well as purchasers of GM’s full-size SUV hybrids. If anything, this heatmap further entrenches the West and Northeast capitals as strongholds for hybrid buying, and almost completely strips out the heartland of the country, especially the Deep South, parts of New England, and, with some exceptions, the Mid-West. Those regions are not likely to become hot spots for hybrid buying, and could be almost completely written off for any advanced technology vehicle selling for $40,000 or more. When General Motors introduces the Chevy Volt in 2010, it will focus on the coasts and ignore the heartland.

Hybrid Heatmap

Analysis of February 2009 Sales Numbers

Hybrids Worldwide

"Top 5 global hybrid markets" based on vehicle registrations CYTD December 2008.

and "Top 5 US hybrid markets" based on vehicle registrations CYTD December 2008.

Don’t be fooled by the slight uptick in car sales from January: the auto market is still in miserable shape. Overall sales are down 41 percent from February 2008, and have sunk to levels not seen since the late 1960s. Sales of hybrid models have fared somewhat better—falling 29 percent—but are still well below last year’s levels. The only model showing sales growth last month was the Lexus RX 400h; most likely the effect of heavy discounting as the 2008 RX400h nears the end of its production cycle and Lexus begins to prepare for the launch of the 2010 RX450h later in the year.

The RX Hybrid wasn’t the only model to have cash on the hood last month. Incentive spending on all vehicles ballooned in February as manufacturers desperately tried to “move metal.” Carmakers offered discounts averaging almost $3,000 per vehicle, and hybrids were not exempt. Dealer or consumer incentives were available on numerous 2009 hybrids, including the Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid, the Honda Civic Hybrid, the Toyota Prius, Toyota Camry Hybrid, and the Nissan Altima Hybrid. Clearly many car shoppers have taken themselves out of the market, but manufacturers seem to believe that some buyers will jump back in if the deals are attractive enough.

If any new hybrid has a chance in this market, it’s the 2009 Honda Insight that’s due to launch next month. Last week, Honda announced pricing for the new Insight: base models will start at just $19,800, plus $670 in destination charges. That’s $2,200 below the cost of the cheapest Toyota Prius, a full 10 percent discount. And Honda will be making a major marketing effort to portray the Insight as the first hybrid affordable to mainstream buyers. Of course, the Insight’s hybrid technology isn’t as advanced or its fuel economy as high as the Prius, but in this market many buyers are likely to see the Insight as an accessible option that delivers good features and respectable fuel economy. Sales results in Japan so far have been promising, doubling Honda’s initial estimates. However, Honda might have a hard time reaching its ambitious goal of selling 100,000 units per year of the “value hybrid” in North America—until the economy shows signs of recovery.

US Sales

Our information is based on hybrid sales as reported by the manufacturers. For each model, this month’s sales are shown compared to sales in the previous month and at the same time last year. We also examine hybrid market share by model and manufacturer. The historical sales graph for top-selling hybrid models shows estimated 2008 volumes based on sales-to-date.

Hybrids sold in the US (February 2009): 16,020

US hybrid sales for February 2009

Model Units vs. last month vs. February 2008 CYTD vs. CYTD 2008
Prius 7,232 10.9% -33.6% 15,353 -31.1%
Camry 2,080 82.3% -49.5% 3,221 -59.1%
Highlander 956 2.8% -50.7% 1,940 -52.5%
RX400h 1,502 3.5% 30.8% 3.058 29.6%
LS600hL 22 -33.3% -80.4% 55 n/a
GS450h 22 -46.3% -71.4% 63 -55.3%
Civic 1,362 26.6% -24.7% 2.438 -31.4%
Escape 1,172 55.6% -22.3% 1.925 -31.4%
Mariner 122 3.9% -47.9% 249 -39.6%
Yukon 177 5.5% n/a 345 n/a
Malibu 197 35.9% n/a 342 n/a
Vue 188 22.9% 208.2% 341 380.3%
Tahoe 315 5.5% n/a 614 n/a
Aura 23 21.1% n/a 42 366.7%
Altima 463 -28.1% 12.5% 1,107 10.5%
Escalade 139 5.5% n/a 271 n/a
Silverado 47 571.4% n/a 54 n/a
All hybrids 16,020 3.7% -28.7% 31,461 -29.9%
All vehicles 689,794 5.0% -41.4% 1,346,675 -39.8%

U.S. hybrid sales for January 2009 by manufacturer and model

United States Sales by Make

U.S. hybrid market historical sales (1999 – 2008)

United States Yearly Sales

Regional Data

Source: R. L. Polk & Co.

Curious where hybrid buyers live? We present the data in two ways. First, we list the 15 cities and states that boast the largest numbers of new hybrids on their roads within the past year. For example, residents in the New York City area put over 19,000 new hybrids on the road in 2007. Second, we adjust for population and look at hybrids per person (in states) or per household (in metro areas.) This lets us include cities like Portland, OR: a city that has fewer overall vehicles (and thus fewer hybrids) but has more hybrids per capita than anywhere else.

States with the Highest Hybrid Sales

Rank State New Hybrids*
1 California 74,932
2 New York 17,184
3 Texas 16,349
4 Florida 16,250
5 Illinois 12,817
6 Virginia 10,240
7 Pennsylvania 10,072
8 Washington 10,053
9 New Jersey 9,444
10 Massachusetts 8,928
11 Arizona 8,914
12 Maryland 7,790
13 North Carolina 7,730
14 Ohio 7,339
15 Colorado 6,607

*Registrations CYTD December 2008

States where hybrids are most popular

Rank State New Hybrids per 1000 Residents*
1 California 2.07
2 District of Columbia 2.05
3 Oregon 1.64
4 Washington 1.60
5 Vermont 1.56
6 Connecticut 1.53
7 Arizona 1.50
8 New Hampshire 1.46
9 Colorado 1.42
10 Massachusetts 1.40
11 Maryland 1.39
12 Virginia 1.35
13 Nevada 1.26
14 Hawaii 1.20
15 Minnesota 1.19
US State Average 0.99

*Registrations CYTD December 2008

Metropolitan areas with the highest hybrid sales

Rank Metropolitan Area New Hybrids*
1 Los Angeles 33,636
2 New York 20,852
3 San Francisso 20,831
4 Washington, DC 10,933
5 Chicago 10.282
6 Boston 9,225
7 Seattle 8,333
8 Philadelphia 8,122
9 Phoenix 7,499
10 San Diego 6,739
11 Sacramento 6,521
12 Denver 5,816
13 Minneapolis-St. Paul 5,613
14 Dallas-Ft. Worth 5,080
15 Portland, OR 4,953

*Registrations CYTD December 2008

Metropolitan areas where hybrids are most popular

Rank Metropolitan Area New Hybrids per 1000 Households*
1 Portland, OR 12.17
2 San Francisco 8.84
3 Monterrey, CA 7.16
4 Santa Barbara, CA 6.94
5 San Diego 6.57
6 Los Angeles 6.08
7 Charlottesville, VA 5.42
8 Seattle, WA 4.90
9 Washington, DC 4.85
10 Sacramento, CA 4.85
11 Phoenix 4.52
12 Palm Springs, CA 4.41
13 Eugene, OR 4.16
14 Denver 4.11
15 Helena, MT 4.11
  US Metro Area Average 2.18

*Registrations CYTD December 2008