With the year one-third of the way gone, it’s a good point to review consumers’ tastes in high MPG cars. Up to this point it has looked like sales of hybrids and plug-in cars have outpaced the overall market while clean diesel sales have lagged, though that is expected to change when some high-volume models hit later this year. Overall market sales have increased 6.3% over the three months while hybrids are up 14.2%, plug-ins up 145.6% on small overall numbers while diesels basically flat–down. 0.4%). Gas and diesel prices remain high, although they have been fluctuating, which may cause some uncertainty in the marketplace. Of course, consumers also have a variety of high-mileage non-hybrid gasoline vehicles to choose from as well. What may be most impressive in this list is the variety of vehicles available to consumers–subcompacts, compacts and midsize cars and wagons; hybrids, diesels, plug-in hybrids and full battery electrics. Here are the Top 10 best sellers with some background as to how the market is going:
1. Toyota Prius – 13,868 – 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 is now edging into the Top 10 sellers nationally and is on track to hit 150,000 units for the year.
2. Toyota Camry Hybrid – 4,461 – The Camry’s hybrid version, along with the Prius triplets, help cement Toyota’s standing as the leader in hybrid sales.
3. Toyota Prius c – 4,026 – The “baby” Prius has a great month, moving up in the ranks. 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.
4. Volkswagen Jetta TDI – 3,653 – The clean diesel standard-bearer holds its own with increased sales this month compared to February. As the VW brand grows and diesel models proliferate there and elsewhere, the Jetta continues to hold its own. Its sales appear to be limited by the number of diesel engines Volkswagen can supply to the Mexican plant that builds the Jetta.
5. Toyota Prius V – 3,460 – The Prius “wagon” had a surge in sales this month and continues to post good numbers, moving ahead of its rival, Ford’s C-Max Hybrid.
6. Ford Fusion Hybrid – 3,417 – The flagship of fuel economy at Ford continues with solid sales, but couldn’t keep up with the Toyotas and VWs in the ranking. 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.
7. Ford C-Max Hybrid – 3,275 – Ford’s hybrid “wagon” had increased sales this month, but still was passed by its rival, the Prius V. It remains a big help in Ford’s move to establish itself as the first stop for fuel efficiency. Its plug-in version, along with a similar one in Fusion form, is starting to garner sales.
8. Volkswagen Passat TDI – 3,237 – The Jetta’s “big brother,” the midsize Passat, had another good month, but only managed to hold its spot in the Top 10. With the Jetta and the other TDI models from VW continue to dominate the clean diesel market the same way Toyota does with hybrids.
9. Nissan Leaf – 2,236 – A surge in sales as the new models (with lower prices) coming out of Nissan’s Tennessee plant (instead of being imported from Japan) put the Leaf in the Top 10 for the first time this year. Nissan clearly sees this as the start of a strong year.
10. Tesla Model S – 1,950 – This marks a double first for the year–the first time the Tesla model has appeared in the Top 10 and the first time two electric cars have been there. While it could be read as a turning point in the market, more likely it is the result of the two battery-powered models having great months (keeping in mind the Tesla numbers are only official once a quarter since the company doesn’t release monthly sales figures).
Bubbling just below the Top 10 are a trio of hybrids and the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid. The Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, Toyota Avalon Hybrid and Lexus ES Hybrid all turned in good months while the Volt dropped enough in their sales total to fall out of the Top 10, but still keep on pace for a reasonable sales year.
While Toyota dominates hybrids (68% of all hybrid sales) and Volkswagen does the same with diesels (81% of all diesel sales), the plug-in market is much more interesting. The competition is much more even with Nissan, Tesla, GM, Ford and Toyota carving up total sales with Nissan pulling in twice the sales of Toyota. It appears that every month may become a toss-up as new models gain momentum in the market (like Ford’s Energi models) or new models come in (like the Chevy Spark EV and Fiat 500e). And the plug-in market will only grow during the coming year as several other models will be launched.
High-mileage cars are off to a great start for the year with sales up 18% in these three categories in for the first three months of the year compared to last year. The monthly sales average continues to creep up so it is conceivable that sales could edge closer to a million units if the trend continues, which would definitely solidify the market for alternatives to conventional gasoline engines. The first quarter indicates it could be a very good year for high-MPG cars.
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Top 10 Best-Selling High-MPG Cars in February 2013