Sales of gas-electric cars jumped nearly 20 percent in May, compared to last month, outpacing the overall vehicle market that increased by 12.3 percent. Sales of the 2010 Toyota Prius, which continues to make up half of all hybrid purchases, increased by 13.5 percent to 14,248 units—despite a relatively poor showing by the entire Toyota brand. Industry observers believe that Toyota has yet to overcome negative publicity from safety recalls earlier this years, yet car shoppers are apparently excusing the Toyota Prius from those quality concerns.

Prius in Vineyard

2010 Toyota Prius.

Sales of the Ford Fusion Hybrid accelerated by a whopping 64 percent to 2,486 units. Ford also added nearly 25 percent more sales of the Ford Escape Hybrid. At this point, Ford has decisively leapfrogged Honda to become the number two seller of hybrid cars. Toyota owns 68 percent of the hybrid market; Ford holds 14 percent; and Honda has dropped to nearly 9 percent of hybrid car sales. The upcoming Honda CR-Z hybrid might help the company regain the second place spot—and Honda executives are promising a clean-slate approach for future hybrids.

Sales of the Altima hybrid, which is only available in eight states, soared by 253 percent. It’s unclear if publicity about the company’s all-electric Nissan Leaf helped raise the green perception of the entire Nissan brand.

BMW shipped the first 7 units of its $103,000 ActiveHybrid 7. Those units, combined with 12 reported sales of the BMW X6, reveal the company’s half-hearted efforts with hybrids. General Motors and Mercedes haven’t fared much better.

Clean diesel sales were up by 8.4 percent to 6,961 units in May compared to last month. Volkswagen continues to dominate clean diesel sales with nearly 80 percent of the market, led by the Jetta TDI, which single-handedly is responsible for 62 percent of all clean diesel purchases.

Despite the rebound in May, hybrid gas-electric cars continue to lag behind the overall market in year-to-date sales, with an 8.5 percent increase so far in 2010 over last year—compared to a 17.2 percent increase in the overall market. That’s not a big surprise, considering that average U.S. gas prices are about 20 cents lower than this time last year. Public outrage over the Gulf oil spill has created a latent demand for fuel-efficient or petroleum-free alternatives—but as long as gas is cheap, sales of hybrids, clean diesel and upcoming plug-in cars will be dampened. If and when gas prices start to climb, Toyota and Ford will be well positioned with hybrids, and Volkswagen with clean diesel vehicles.

May 2010 Hybrid Car Sales Numbers

Hybrids sold in the US (May 2010): 28,202
Hybrid Take-Rate: 2.56%

US hybrid sales for May 2010

Model Units vs. last month vs. May 2009 CYTD vs. CYTD 2009
Toyota Prius 14,248 13.5% 41.2% 55,041 28.7%
Ford Fusion 2,486 64.0% 32.4% 7,998 138.6%
Honda Insight 1,913 1.8% -31.2 8,766 61.0%
Toyota Camry 1,455 -12.1% -50.5% 6,537 -40.1%
Lexus HS 250h 1,360 26.4% n/a 5,889 n/a
Lexus RX450h 1,358 10.2% 245.5% 5,741 8.9%
Ford Escape 1,302 24.2% -23.5% 4,861 -17.4%
Altima 1,167 253.6% 283.3% 3,569 42.3%
Honda Civic 717 15.5% -65.5% 2,516 -76.6%
Toyota Highlander 683 -1.3% -49.4% 2,834 -46.1%
Chevy Silverado 299 179.4% 247.7% 635 173.7%
Chevy Tahoe 241 70.9% -13.0% 745 -44.6%
GMC Yukon 193 34.0% 22.9% 614 -17.8%
Mercedes ML450 181 389.2% n/a 424 n/a
Cadillac Escalade 131 14.9% -36.7% 566 -38.0%
Mercedes S400 101 -6.5% n/a 461 n/a
Mercury Mariner 81 14.1% -35.2% 404 -32.6%
Mercury Milan 76 -16.5% -62.4% 424 -23.6%
Mazda Tribute 61 5.2% -52.0% 263 -38.8%
Chevy Malibu 41 -38.8% -94.2% 323 -84.9%
GMC Sierra 38 -29.6% -13.6% 246 113.9%
Lexus GS450h 38 52.0% -11.6% 157 -13.3%
BMW X6 12 -42.9% n/a 97 n/a
Lexus LS600hL 8 14.3% -70.4% 48 -61.9%
BMW ActiveHybrid 7 7 n/a n/a 7 n/a
Saturn Vue 3 -25.0% -98.7% 33 -97.4%
Saturn Aura 2 n/a -94.3% 33 -75.4%
All hybrids 28,202 19.2% 9.2% 109,232 8.5%
All vehicles 1,102,899 12.3% 19.1% 4,630,284 17.2%

May 2010 Clean Diesel Car Sales Numbers

Clean Diesels sold in the US (May 2010): 6,961
Diesel Take-Rate: 0.63%

US clean diesel sales for May 2010

n/a
Model Units vs. last month vs. May 2009 CYTD vs. CYTD 2009
Volkswagen Jetta 4,347 20.0% 14.5% 15,626 32.7%
Volkswagen Golf 598 8.1% n/a 2,161 n/a
BMW X5 619 28.2% 348.6% 3,256 126.4%
BMW 335d 207 -51.5% 162.0% 1,188 197.7%
Mercedes GL320 311 3.0% 37.6% 1,207 1.9%
Audi A3 237 -20.2% 1,287 n/a n/a
Audi Q7 219 -3.1% -37.4% 1,054 74.8%
Mercedes ML320 220 14.6% -17.0% 785 -43.4%
Volkswagen Touareg 119 -36.0% 77.6% 813 645.9%
Jeep Cherokee 65 -4.4% -7.1% 451 15.6%
Mercedes R320 14 -76.7% -65.9% 154 -22.2%
Mercedes E320 5 -37.5% -96.2% 42 -91.4%
All clean diesels 6,961 8.4% 34.8% 28,024 55.9%
All vehicles 1,102,899 12.3% 19.1% 4,630,284 17.2%