The HybridCars.com monthly sales dashboard is a collaboration of HybridCars.com and Baum & Associates, a Michigan-based market research firm focusing on automotive issues including the hybrid and electric vehicle market.

Hybrid sales leapt higher in March, growing by nearly 50 percent compared to February and compared to last March. The jump is impressive because it nearly tripled the 16.8 increase in overall auto sales compared to a year ago.

Lexus CT 200h

Strong sales of the Lexus CT 200h, in its first month of the market, helped boost hybrid car sales to near-record levels.

While the 34,082 hybrid car sales were not as high as the record 40,198 sales—in April 2008 during an historic run on gas prices—or as high as July and August 2009—during the Cash-for-Clunkers program, it is nonetheless a watershed month. That’s because the previous high sales months came during times of temporary government incentives, either in the form of tax credits or Cash-for-Clunkers rebates. This time around, it’s unassisted consumer demand for fuel efficiency during a time of high gas prices that’s driving sales. Furthermore, it appears that the geopolitics of oil could sustain high oil prices for an extended period of time.

In addition, the Lexus CT 200h launched with monthly sales of nearly 2,200 units, which is strong for a luxury vehicle with a starting price of $29,000. This new model immediately became the third most popular hybrid, behind the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight. While the Insight and Honda CR-Z have not met Honda’s goals, the CR-Z had its best month ever, and the Insight had its best month in the last year and a half.

Of course, the Prius continues to be a bellwether for the alternative vehicle market. Sales of the Prius have increased dramatically over the last several months, from about 10,500 in January to more than 13,500 in February and more than 18,500 in March. The March numbers were a whopping 58 percent higher than last year.

The importance of hybrid technology to Toyota is confirmed by Toyota’s decision to prioritize production of the Prius and the Lexus CT200h over production of other vehicles in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami. The availability of these Japanese-only produced vehicles may be problematic in coming months, and could push up transaction prices at the dealership.

Chevy Volt and Nisan LEAF sales are slowly turning up as availability starts to grow. With shipments of the Nissan LEAF—about 1,500 units in total—arriving in late March and early April, there should be a small spike of LEAF sales reported in the coming weeks. Yet, after that, supplies of the LEAF could be problematic as Nissan adjusts its production in the wake of the disaster. Chevy Volt sales should increase on a steadier basis.

The Volkswagen Jetta TDI made a noteworthy jump of nearly 44 percent in March, as overall sales of clean diesel vehicles increased by more than 36 percent.

The dramatic percentage gain in hybrid sales is, of course, due to higher fuel prices, but it is also due to the general economic recovery, which makes people more comfortable buying non-traditional vehicles. Buyers are moving from the “have to buy” rationale to the “want to buy” rationale. Thus, the continuing recovery augurs well for the hybrid and electric vehicle market, which will be providing more products to choose and higher volume production in the coming months and years. For example, the sales numbers and market share will continue to grow with the coming release of the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid and the larger version of the Toyota Prius, the V model.

March 2011 Hybrid Car Sales Numbers

Hybrids sold in the US (March 2011): 34,082
Hybrid Take-Rate: 2.74%

US hybrid sales for March 2011

Model Units vs. last month vs. March 2010 CYTD vs. CYTD 2010
Toyota Prius 18,605 37.4% 57.9% 42,779 51.5%
Honda Insight 2,782 61.6% 68.4% 6,058 21.8%
Lexus CT 200h 2,199 n/a n/a 2,199 n/a
Honda CR-Z 1,685 54.4% n/a 3,670 n/a
Ford Fusion 1,466 6.3% -12.2% 3,814 -4.6%
Lexus RX450h 1,438 43.9% 14.9% 3,349 6.3%
Toyota Camry 1,437 44.7% -7.2% 3,290 -4.0%
Ford Escape 1,195 50.3% 2.3% 2,510 0.0%
Toy. Highlander 797 12.7% 34.2% 2,193 50.3%
Linc. MKZ Hybrid 615 55.7% n/a 1,380 n/a
Altima 545 48.9% 38.3% 1,276 -38.4%
Honda Civic 441 -17.1% -23.8% 1,626 38.0%
Lexus HS 250h 230 25.7% -84.6% 699 -79.8%
Cad. Escalade 127 47.7% 3.3% 312 -2.8%
Porsche Cayenne 114 -19.7% n/a 467 n/a
Chevy Silverado 94 100.0% -18.3% 333 45.4%
GMC Yukon 81 35.0% -31.4% 193 -30.3%
Chevy Tahoe 70 55.6% -44.9% 181 -50.1%
BMW Hybrid 7 38 8.6% n/a 105 n/a
Mazda Tribute 34 -8.1% -42.4% 107 -25.7%
GMC Sierra 26 30.0% -60.0% 67 -56.5%
Mercedes S400 25 4.2% -74.5% 75 -70.2%
Lexus GS450h 24 -27.3% -22.6% 76 -19.1%
Lexus LS600hL 9 28.6% 0.0% 24 -27.3%
BMW X6 5 -44.4% -76.2% 19 -70.3%
Chevy Malibu Hybrid 0 -100.0% -100.0% 5 -97.7
Mercedes ML450 0 -100.0% -100.0% 1 -99.5
All hybrids 34,082 46.5% 46.4% 76,808 33.9
All vehicles 1,241,951 25.5% 16.8% 3,048,632 20.1%

March 2011 Plug-in Electric Car Sales Numbers

Plug-in cars sold in the US (March 2011): 906
Plug-in Take-Rate: 0.07%

US plug-in electric sales for March 2011

Model Units vs. last month vs. March 2010 CYTD vs. CYTD 2010
Chevrolet Volt 608 116.4% n/a 1,210 n/a
Nissan LEAF 298 344.8% n/a 452 n/a
Smart ED 0 100.0% n/a 32 n/a
All plug-in cars 906 146.9% n/a 1,694 n/a
All vehicles 1,241,951 25.5% 16.8% 3,048,632 20.1%

March 2011 Clean Diesel Car Sales Numbers

Clean Diesels sold in the US (March 2011): 8,339
Diesel Take-Rate: 0.67%

US clean diesel sales for March 2011

Model Units vs. last month vs. March 2010 CYTD vs. CYTD 2010
VW Jetta 4,753 39.6% 43.9% 11,095 44.9%
Volkswagen Golf 888 42.3% 81.6% 2,090 106.9%
BMW X5 554 3.0% -25.7% 1,735 -19.5%
Mercedes GL320 426 11.8% 50.5% 1,086 82.8%
Audi Q7 373 8.7% 68.8% 1,026 68.5%
BMW 335d 291 0.3% 18.8% 741 33.8%
Mercedes ML320 291 42.0% 39.2% 771 106.7%
Audi A3 249 35.3% -8.1% 904 20.1
Mercedes E320 248 53.1% 3,442.9% 632 2,079.3%
VW Touareg 202 14.8% -1.0% 548 7.9%
Mercedes R320 64 113.3% 236.8% 137 71.3%
Jeep Gr Cherokee n/a 100.0% 152 -52.2%
All clean diesels 8,339 31.6% 36.3% 20,917 42.9%
All vehicles 1,241,951 25.5% 16.8% 3,048,632 20.1%