Well, 2013 is one-third gone, so it’s a good time to see what is working in the marketplace in high MPG cars. Rather than just focus on what was selling well last month (hint: it’s the usual suspects: Prius/Fusion/Prius c/Prius V/Camry/C-Max/Jetta), let’s take a look at the models that are leading the way four months into the new year and also look at how they’re doing compared to last year, since that presents some countervailing trends.
The big news is how these high-MPG segments are doing compared to the overall market. We look at four different segments–hybrids, plug-in electrics (hybrids and pure electrics), diesels and natural gas, the latter of which barely registered in the light-duty car market. Hybrids have been around for more than a dozen years and top 3% of the overall market; diesels came online in 2009 and are still under 1% of the passenger car market while plug-in electrics are just finishing a second year on sale, but have already topped 1/2% with a trajectory that appears to be heading up fast.
Compared to last year, hybrid sales for the first four months are up 12.3%, almost double the overall market’s gain. Plug-ins, as mentioned, are on a tear with 130% growth, but on relatively small numbers. Diesels have taken a dip so far this year, dropping 6.2%, but are expected to rebound when high-volume cars like the Chevy Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel, Mazda6 SkyActiv-D, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ram 1500 hit showrooms later this year. Both the hybrid and plug-in electric segments are also adding models as well.
At the one-third of the year mark the sales patterns of the high-MPG models appear to be settling into place. While a couple models have shifted positions up or down from month-to-month, the overall makeup of the Top 10 is relatively stable–and shows a fairly broad representation of technologies. If the list is expanded to the top 15, which is logical based on the relatively close sales numbers, the diversity of the models is even more pronounced.
Sales breakdown in roughly three clusters. The lonely top “cluster” is the traditional Prius model. Even though sales are down compared to last year, it continues to more than triple the sales of the next competitor. Prius, even with a drop in sales can expect to end up the year around 150,000 units.
The second group include seven vehicles with 10-15,000 sales for the first third of the year. This group includes two Prius variants and the Camry Hybrid. Rounding it out are two Ford hybrids and two VW diesels.
The last group is those with 5-10,000 sales during the first quarter. This group includes the hot Tesla Model S, another pure electric, the Nissan Leaf, t plug-in hybrid Volt and hybrids from Chevy, Toyota, Hyundai, Toyota and Lexus.
Details on sales for the first four months of the year follow. As mentioned, because of the closeness of sales numbers, we’ve expanded this Top 10 to include five additional models.
1. Toyota Prius – 47,413 – Even with declining sales, which could be attributed to the other Prius models (c, V & Plug-in) sapping customers for the classic hatchback, the Prius continues to amaze as its sales remain strong and help keep Toyota as the king of hybrids and the go-to car for MPG. The car can be considered a mainstream vehicle and is on track to hit 150,000 units for the year.
2. Toyota Camry Hybrid – 15,691 – The Camry’s hybrid version, with sales basically flat from a year ago, helps to keep Toyota’s dominant position in hybrid sales. The value for Toyota is this iteration of its perennial best-selling is it extends the volume of the Hybrid Synergy system and gives an MPG image-leader for the Camry.
3. Ford Fusion Hybrid – 13,891 – The flagship of fuel economy at Ford is mounting a challenge to the segment leading Camry and leads Ford’s surge in the high-MPG segment (Ford contends its hybrids and plug-in models have taken about 15% of market share from Toyota). The Dearborn-based auto company is serious about fuel economy, whether its hybrids, plug-ins or its Eco-Boost high-efficiency engines now showing up across the board in models from the Fiesta to the F-150. The Fusion’s new look and features have helped propel it into being a true contender in the tough midsize segment along with the perennials–Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima.
4. Toyota Prius c – 13,351 – The “baby” Prius continues to attract entry-level hybrid seekers. This smallest, least expensive hybrid in the Toyota lineup continues to draw more buyers and looks to be on the way to a solid year of sales. Like the Camry Hybrid model, it’s a derivative platform so the hybrid version should just mean incremental sales at relatively low cost.
5. Volkswagen Jetta TDI – 12,762 – The clean diesel standard-bearer rounds out the Top 5, even though its sales, like the Prius are down substantially from last year. Like the Prius, the sales drop could be attributed to a sister model (the Passat TDI) stealing sales that otherwise would have gone to the Jetta. Its sales may be limited by the number of diesel engines Volkswagen can supply to the Mexican plant that builds the Jetta, which could change as the company ramps up production south of the border.
6. Toyota Prius V – 11,897 – The Prius “wagon” has been posting solid sales numbers in the first third of the year and maintains a slim lead over its newer rival, Ford’s C-Max Hybrid in spite a sales drop from last year.
7. Ford C-Max Hybrid – 11,708 – Ford’s hybrid “wagon,” along with the Prius V, demonstrates that there is a clear demand for more versatility along with good fuel economy. Unlike its Toyota rival, the Ford wagon also has an even higher mileage plug-in version, which adds more sales to the platform.
8. Volkswagen Passat TDI – 10,037 – The Jetta’s “big brother” continues to hold a solid second place spot in the clean diesel market, giving VW the domination in the diesel market similar to Toyota’s with hybrids. In the same way Ford is starting to challenge Toyota in hybrids, VW may see some serious competition when the Chevy Cruze and Mazda6 diesels hit the market late in the year.
9. Tesla Model S – 6,850 – This is a big, if pleasant, surprise. The Tesla Model S is the best-selling pure electric and it’s by far the most expensive model among top-MPG vehicles. Tesla has ramped up production and is still filling pre-orders for the Model S (these numbers are a combination of Tesla’s reported sales for the first quarter plus and estimate for April sales), but appears to be on track for delivery of its projected 20,000 units this year.
10. Hyundai Sonata Hybrid – 5,703 – Hyundai’s flagship hybrid model (which shares most of its componentry with its sister car, the Kia Optima Hybrid) has snuck into the Top 10 with consistent sales throughout the first part of the year, even though its numbers are down about 16% from last year. The Hyundai has a lower starting price (compared to the similar-size Camry and Fusion hybrids) than some of its competition, but also doesn’t deliver quite as high MPG.
11. Chevrolet Volt – 5,550 – Volt sales are up slightly this year, but not enough to keep it in the Top 10 for the first third of the year. It looks like the plug-in hybrid will deliver a reasonable sales total for the year, although falling substantially below GM’s original sales projections. The company is already starting to talk up its next generation model.
12. Nissan Leaf – 5,476 – A surge in sales as 2013 models with lower prices started shipping out of the company’s Tennessee plant put the Leaf in the Top 10 for the first time this
year last month and probably portends and upward trend for the pure electric model this year. Nissan clearly sees this as the start of a strong year and is putting marketing dollars behind its halo eco model.
13. Toyota Avalon Hybrid – 5,440 – Toyota’s newest hybrid has garnered a solid portion of sales of the recently remodeled Avalon., adding to Toyota’s hybrid arsenal.
14. Lexus ES Hybrid – 5,276 – Like the Avalon, the Lexus ES’ hybrid model is taking a good share of the buyers being drawn to the redesigned model.
15. Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid – 5,145 – The Malibu Hybrid is a bit of a surprise. It’s take-rate among Malibu buyers is lower than expected by GM and sales of the new model overall have been disappointing, but it is still charting and could help raise GM’s profile as a place to find high-MPG vehicles.
While Toyota dominates hybrids (64% of all hybrid sales in April), it is facing a strong challenge from Ford and other companies (GM and Hyundai/Kia in particular) with new models or market advantages. Volkswagen does the same with diesels (84% of all diesel sales in April), but similarly is going to face new challengers later in the year. The plug-in market is much more divided and looks like it will remain so for some time. Nissan, Tesla, GM, Ford and Toyota carve up most of the total sales with the leader seeming to shift every month. It’s a healthy, growing, high-profile though still small market. New models will be coming into the market during the next few months and promise to keep the energy level high.
We’re one-third of the way through the year and the focus on fuel economy remains strong and growing. With some new models here and even more coming, it promises to be an exciting year for high MPG cars.
Posted May 5, 2013 (compiled with Hybridcars.com & Automotive News information as reported by manufacturers)
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