10 Best Selling 40+ MPG Cars

You can mark 2012 down on the automotive history calendar. For the first time in almost hundred years, consumers have a real choice in cars. We’re not talking about the usual body style, color and equipment choices, but the substantial choice of what kind of powertrain you want under the hood if your focus is on getting the best fuel economy. The choices are proliferating and consumers in increasing numbers took advantage of the better than 40-mile-per-gallon vehicles available (which is our cut-off point for this list). The diversity of those choices shows on Clean Fleet Report’s list of 2012′s Top 10 best-selling high-mileage cars among hybrid/clean diesel/plug-in hybrid models. Consumers are voting for these new technologies with their pocketbooks. And we’re just getting started. Here are the winners in 2012:

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Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid

  1. Toyota Prius                     147,503 Hybrid
  2. VW Jetta TDI                    48,099                   Diesel
  3. Toyota Camry Hybrid    45,656                   Hybrid
  4. Toyota Prius V                 40,669                   Hybrid
  5. Toyota Prius c                  35,733                   Hybrid
  6. VW Passat TDI                 26,469                   Diesel
  7. Chevy Volt                        23,461                   Plug-in Hybrid
  8. Lexus CT200h                   17,671                   Hybrid
  9. Ford Fusion Hybrid        14,100                   Hybrid
  10. Toyota Prius Plug-in      12,750                   Plug-in Hybrid

And there could be a whole separate list for the cars that don’t get broken out for separate recognition, the high-mileage models whose sales numbers get wrapped in with their less-efficient stable mates, like the 40+ mpg Chevy Cruze Eco and a growing number of non-hybrid, non-diesel models. As well, there should be a category for the most efficient all-wheel-drive vehicles, which because of their added weight, typically put up still good, but sub-40 mpg numbers. Eager to join that list would be the Lexus RX400h hybrid and BMW X5 xDrive x35d diesel, among others.

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VW Passat TDI

Then there are the honorable mentions bubbling just below the Top 10, but hoping a better year in 2013 will put some dedicated battery electric vehicles on the list – with the Nissan Leaf, Ford Focus EV and Tesla Model S topping that group. Other models launched during the year could also make a charge this year and rack up some solid numbers. The Ford C-Max hybrid and its Energi plug-in version both look poised for a better year.

Of course many thought these sales numbers would be even higher as the Volt and Leaf both missed very ambitious sales targets.

No Silver Bullets

The bigger point, even though these numbers (other than the Prius) are relatively small in a 14.5 million vehicle sale year like 2012, is that not only are consumers being offered a variety of high-MPG vehicle choices, but they are choosing to take advantage of that variety! There is not silver bullet in sight. Setting aside for the moment the stranglehold the Prius has on the hybrid market–which is being extended with the expanding family of Prius vehicles–and note that car buyers are also opting for diesels and plug-ins as well in competitive numbers. The overall categories of hybrids, plug-in vehicles and diesels had year-over-year growth rates of 61%, 198% and 24% respectively.

The even better news is that 2013 promises to bring more of the same as in more choice (in models and variety of powertrains). The message coming from the automakers and being well-received by consumers is that it’s possible to get great fuel economy in a variety of vehicle configurations and from a variety of different technologies. Other than the clear leadership of the Prius based on 12 years of growing popularity that established it as the deserving poster child of the modern, fuel-efficient automobile.

A Transition Year

This year, 2012, will be one the world will look back upon as one of transition. It will join 2001, the first year a hybrid’s sales went into five digits (more than 10,000) and 2009, the first year of the clean diesel in the U.S. This year is the first full year sales of a plug-in vehicle hit the 10,000 mark. I suspect plug-in sales may hit the 100,000-unit the Prius passed in 2005 within a similar five-year period or even sooner if gas prices spike and/or promotion hits new levels. Last year we saw Nissan Leaf leases as low as $129/month (with a high down payment and tough qualifications), which put it at a monthly cost comparable with other small (internal combustion engine) cars and Chevy also rolled out discounted leases for the Volt. Nissan is just rolling out a lower cost model, built in Tennessee, that promises to get the purchase price of the EV closer to that of its non-EV competitors. Federal and state incentives continue to be offered to drop retail prices further for plug-ins. Whether these hefty enticements to try a new technology will have a substantial impact on consumers remains to be seen. Early adopters have been reaping the benefits so far, but it may take some time for the general consumer to warm up to vehicles that require a shift in behavior, even with clear environmental and financial benefits.

Posted Jan. 14, 2013

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About Author: Michael Coates

is editor at Clean Fleet Report and an internationally recognized expert in the field of automotive environmental issues. He has been an automotive editor and writer for more than three decades. His media experience includes Petersen Publishing (now part of Source Interlink), Green Car Journal, trade magazines, newspaper and television news reporting. He currently serves on the Board of the Western Automotive Journalists.

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