August was a high-water mark for some of the pure electric cars and plug-in hybrids, stoking hopes that these alternatives were starting to gain traction in the market. The year 2013 is two-thirds over and auto industry sales overall are doing quite well (up 14 percent compared to July 2013, up 17 percent compared to August 2012 and up 9.6 percent over the year-to-date compared to last year). The record sales this month by the Passat TDI, Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf show that high mileage vehicles are definitely high on consumers’ shopping lists. More models continue to come onto the market, broadening consumer choices and adding to the ongoing discussion of fuel economy.
At this point in the year it is safe to say that the slice of the market held by hybrids, plug-ins and diesels will end the year near five percent of the overall market, which it topped in August by a good margin as all three sectors grew. As we’ve seen all year, each month may present a slightly different order, but the Top 10 vehicles are relatively consistent and a couple models on the margins of the sales numbers shuffle places among the top 14 or 15. That said, we also are seeing a couple distinct tiers of sales in this diverse group.
On top of the group – always – is the Toyota Prius. With a several year head start on most of the other cars on sales, it’s sales are typically triple those in the next tier. The second tier are the models breaking into the mainstream, selling well enough to assure their continued existence in the market, but well below the Prius level. At this level the VW diesels – Jetta and Passat – are joined by the midsize Toyota Camry and Ford Fusion hybrids as well as two Prius variants, the c and V and the Ford C-Max hybrid. In August the Chevy Volt also joined this group although its year-to-date sales drop it into the third tier.
The third tier is more crowded and is where the most shuffling takes place on a month to month basis. Looking back over the first eight months of the year this group would include the Volt mentioned above, the pure electric Nissan Leaf, Hyundai Sonata Hybrid and Tesla’s Model S. Knocking on the door of this group are a variety of hybrids – The Lexus CT 200h, Kia Optima Hybrid, Lexus ES Hybrid, Malibu Hybrid and Toyota Avalon Hybrid. Of note in this group is the fact that most of them are cars sharing technology with others in their corporate family so the incremental costs of the technology is spread across more platforms. Their sales numbers may not be as critical as what they add to the cumulative totals of hybrid sales for Toyota-Lexus, Hyundai-Kia and General Motors.
Details on sales for the first eight months of the year as well as the month of August (parenthetically) follow. It’s shaping up to be a solid year for these high mpg cars.
1. Toyota Prius – 106,448 – (16,157) The Prius is unchallenged as the leader among all of the alternatives, a mainstream car and something for the rest of this group to aspire to. It captures almost a third of all hybrid sales
and is charting among the top 10 selling cars in the overall market.
2. Toyota Camry Hybrid – 32,756 – (4,729 The Camry’s hybrid version is a solid second best among hybrids for the year though in August it dropped to fifth in sales in the group.
3. Volkswagen Jetta TDI – 31,151 – (5,876) The clean diesel standard-bearer is pushing toward the top of the second tier, in August once again second only to the Prius Liftback in sales. It accounts for fully one-third of diesel sales at this point.
4. Toyota Prius c – 29,850 – (5,478) The “baby” Prius continues to attract entry-level hybrid seekers and had a strong August. This smallest, least expensive hybrid in the Toyota lineup helped Toyota to a 1-2-3 podium finish among hybrid sales, Ford is mounting a challenge.
5. Ford Fusion Hybrid – 26,891 – (3,694) The flagship of fuel economy at Ford is leading a challenge by that automaker to Toyota’s dominance of the hybrid segment, although its approach to fuel economy includes also plug-in versions of the Fusion and C-Max, an all-electric Focus and its conventional EcoBoost engines.
6. Toyota Prius V – 25,976 – (3,932) The Prius “wagon” is having a good year, helping Toyota to continue to take four of the top six spots in this survey.
7. Volkswagen Passat TDI – 25,122 – (4,470) The Jetta’s “big brother” had a great August, setting sales records for the TDI version of the midsize model. The two VWs give the company a dominating position in the diesel market similar to Toyota’s with hybrids.
8. Ford C-Max Hybrid – 22,536- (2,411) Ford’s hybrid “wagon,” along with the Prius V, demonstrates that there is a clear demand for more versatility along with good fuel economy. It’s the top-seller among new models for this year.
9. Hyundai Sonata Hybrid – 14,354 – (2,303) Hyundai’s hybrid models flies under the radar somewhat, but with the Kia Optima Hybrid using the same technology their combined sales are almost at the Toyota Camry Hybrid level.
10. Chevrolet Volt – 14,994 – (3,351) The Volt had a record August as it dropped prices in the hotly competitive plug-in market. It’s 2014 model will be on sale soon and likely will continue its strong performance.
11. Nissan Leaf – 14,123 – (2,420) A strong August looks to keep the Leaf on track for a good year and just kept it out of the Top 10 by a few hundred sales.
12. Tesla Model S – 13,150 – (1,700) Tesla’s pure electric has estimated sales numbers (they release the official ones when they report their quarterly earnings so we should know real numbers in two months), but production has been steadily increasing during the year as the company fills its orders for its expensive, but exquisite sedan and begins ramping up exports. If the production continues to increase, it could potentially move up this survey, though realistically it will remain in the bottom group. It does have the “honor” of being the most expensive car in this list by a good margin.
Bubbling below the Top 10 (or 12 in this case) are several models that help boost hybrid sales. The Toyota Avalon Hybrid, Lexus ES Hybrid, Chevy Malibu Hybrid, Kia Optima Hybrid and Lexus CT 200h Hybrid don’t rack up big numbers, but they add to the strength of the segment – and cumulatively accounted for more than 50,000 additional hybrid sales.
Something to keep an eye on are new models just coming into the market that might make an impact in the second half of the year. The new hybrids include the VW Jetta Hybrid and Audi Q5 Hybrid – new hybrid models for the best-selling cars for those two brands. In the diesel world the big news is the Chevy Cruze Diesel, which went on sale in June and appears to be a slow starter, while a Ram 1500 Diesel pickup and Mazda6 Skyactiv-D Diesel will be out later in the year. Plug-ins will welcome the Chevy Spark EV and Toyota RAV4 EV, both of which are being priced competitively to try to stimulate sales in this portion of the market.
Posted August 8, 2013 (compiled with Hybridcars.com & Automotive News information as reported by manufacturers)
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