Overall auto sales rose 17 percent in November compared to a year ago, while purchases of hybrid gas-electric car increased by just 4 percent. The picture for hybrids gets a little worse when looking at the anticipated tally for 2010—with hybrid sales decreasing by about 7 percent while the overall auto market jumped by at least 10 percent.

Automakers sold 20,858 hybrids in November, the lowest number since February. Every popular hybrid model was down compared to last month, with the Toyota Prius—by far the most popular gas-electric model—dropping from 11,731 sales in October to 10,224 in November, nearly a 13 percent decrease.

Prius in Vineyard

Sales of the Toyota Prius increased by a modest 6 percent compared to a year ago.

However, Prius sales are up by more than 6 percent compared to a year ago. In that light, sales of the Prius were actually a bright spot for Toyota, which saw its overall sales drop by 3 percent compared to November 2009. The company is still smarting from a year of high-profile recalls. Most other major automakers reported significant increases in overall sales, including Ford, which experienced a 24 percent increase compared to a year ago.

We will post the full set of hybrid car sales numbers in the next few days in our monthly hybrid and diesel dashboard.

Low Volume Hybrids Drag Down Hybrid Tally

Like the Prius, other popular hybrid models rose compared to a year ago. The Honda Insight added sales by 9.5 percent, and the Ford Fusion Hybrid jumped by 7 percent. According to Alan Baum, a Michigan-based auto industry analyst who has been running auto market forecasts since the 1980s, the 2010 hybrid market was dragged down by the discontinuation of hybrids from General Motors, and decline in sales of the Honda Civic Hybrid.

Baum sees a brighter picture for hybrids in 2011. “With gas prices on the upswing and the retail market recovering, the market for hybrids and other electric vehicles should recover nicely over the next several months and years,” Baum said. “Of course, the explosion of new product will also be a plus.”

Baum’s forecast for regular hybrids shows steady growth, while electric cars and plug-in hybrids—such as the Nissan LEAF and Chevy Volt—make their debut. “The large number of new hybrid entrants from many automakers, many of which will be low volume, collectively will provide reasonable growth prospects.” Baum believes that new conventional hybrids hitting the market—as many as a dozen in 2011 alone—will mean growth for regular hybrids, even as some green consumers take the first steps to the next generation of electric cars and plug-in hybrids.