Batteries Shine; Diesel Down, But Not Out of the Mix
We’re closing in on the end of the year, when sales traditionally slow down, so it’s a good time to take stock of what’s selling among the hybrids, plug-in hybrids, battery electric and clean diesel cars and trucks. Of course, this year’s high fuel economy models are complicated by two major developments.
Number one is the low cost of gasoline. Fuel economy has slipped from the top of many shopping lists. It’s still important to many folks, but gas under two dollars in some areas has some opting
for bigger vehicles. Low gas prices have persisted all year and are forecast to last well into 2016. The impact is clear when you look at the numbers. Hybrids sales for the first 10 months of the year are down 15.7 percent compared to the same period in 2014. Plug-in hybrids dropped twice that (30.6 percent), but that also may reflect some people waiting for the introduction of the 2016 Volt, which just hit the market. Battery electrics bucked the trend (although they’re also the lowest volume segment) and increased 8.2 percent compared to last year, beating the overall market increase of 5.9 percent.
The second impact is Volkswagen’s “clean diesel” emissions cheating scandal. The long-term impact is uncertain, but in the interim VW four-cylinder diesels were pulled off the market in October (the V-6 diesels followed suit this month). Even with the two top-selling car models off the market the last month and scathing anti-diesel headlines, the diesel market is only down 5.5 percent for the year and even in October outsold both plug-in hybrids and pure battery electrics.
Markets Carved Up in Different Ways
While the overall automotive market remains quite diverse with seven major companies (GM, Ford, FCA, Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Hyundai-Kia) dividing up most the sales, when you move to the four segments we focus on, the competitive landscape changes dramatically. In hybrids, Toyota’s products (Toyota and Lexus) dominate with almost three-fourths of sales (71 percent). A similar trend was seen in diesels until this month when the four best-selling VW’s were pulled off the market, with Volkswagen typically taking more than half of segment’s sales. Plug-in hybrids are kind of a duopoly with GM and Ford dividing up 90 percent of the segment’s sales. Only the battery electric market seems to reflect the competitiveness of the general market Tesla, Nissan, BMW and Volkswagen dividing 86 percent of sales among themselves.
The Top 10 (and a second 10 as well)
Our Top 10 best-selling best fuel economy cars for the year so far has a familiar feel to it, but some of the players have shifted positions this time around. Sales figures are for the first 10 months of 2015 (January-October). We’ve linked to our road tests of the vehicles where available.
Top 10 Best MPG Cars
- Toyota Prius – The Prius Liftback continues to lead the high-MPG world in sales, well on the way to another 100,000+ sales year. Sales are off compared to last year, but a new model will soon hit the market and the expectation is that will provide a bump in sales. [95,389]
- Ram 1500 EcoDiesel – The Ram flies the diesel flag. In fact it flies it so high that the only reason sales numbers aren’t higher is that Ram can’t get more engines to stuff into its half-ton
- Toyota Prius c – The “baby” Prius continues a strong performance as the quartet bearing the Prius brand (the original Prius liftback, the c, the V and the plug-in Prius) remain the most visible symbol of a fuel-economy focused automobile and have the numbers to back up their image. [33,022]
- Toyota Camry Hybrid – The hybrid variation of the strong-selling Camry midsize sedan has always sold well and continues to hold a spot in the Top 10. [26,815]
- Toyota Prius V – Closing out four of the top five spots for Toyota is the wagon version of the Prius, reinforcing a concern for functionality along with a desire for fuel economy. [24,607]
- Ford Fusion Hybrid – Ford has been charging hard into the fuel economy space and making a name for itself with EcoBoost engines, hybrids, plug-in hybrids and full electric cars. The Fusion Hybrid is the bestseller of the group. [21,333]
- Tesla Model S – The big Tesla sedan continue to add U.S. sales while also expanding overseas and introducing its Model X SUV. [19,800]
- Hyundai Sonata Hybrid – The Korean automaker has moved up methodically in the rankings as the hybrid model of its strong-selling Sonata midsize sedan. [17,839] A little further down the ranks (at 17) the sister car to the Sonata, the Kia Optima Hybrid, has also been selling well.
- Volkswagen Passat TDI – VW’s midsize diesel sedan is off the market right now, but racked up enough sales through September to keep in the Top 10. [16,882]
- Volkswagen Jetta TDI – Like its bigger brother, the Passat, the diesel Jetta is off the market, but did well enough in the first nine months of the year to keep in the Top 10. The Golf Sportwagen TDI model also was fairly high on the charts (19). [16,183]
While we’ve called out the Top 10, we should also mention some models just bubbling under that deserve some attention, particularly as we look forward to a changing landscape where electrics and plug-in hybrids become more readily available.
Just missing the cut (11) is the second best-selling pure electric, the Nissan Leaf, followed by two hybrids—the Ford C-Max and the Lexus CT200h, then the best-selling plug-in hybrid, the Chevy Volt, (which is introducing a redesigned model) and the Honda Accord Hybrid round out the next five. In the next batch are Toyota Avalon Hybrid, Optima Hybrid, Lexus ES Hybrid, VW Golf Sportwagen TDI and the surging BMW i3 (available in both pure electric and range-extended electric versions). The Ford Fusion Energi, the second best-selling plug-in hybrid, rounds out the list. Of course there are another couple dozen models (cumulative) in all four categories that sell in small numbers.
It would be hard to go wrong with any of the cars on this list, although you do have to factor in your individual life situation to make sure the technology fits your needs.
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