Hybrid car sales in 2007 increased by 37.9% over 2006 for a total of 347,369 hybrid cars sold. Most of the increase can be laid at the feet of the Prius, which has continued it's domination over all other hybrid cars. Freed from a production bottleneck, sales of the Prius took off in 2007, making it one of the top 10 cars (not just hybrid cars, but all cars) in the U.S. Slight increases can be accredited to the introduction of two new hybrid models, while continued high gas prices are clearly pushing hybrid car sales.
GM Makes it Difficult
Note that the numbers presented here exclude GM models for two reasons. The first is GM does not break out their hybrid car sales, so it's very hard to obtain the numbers. Second, the current hybrid models from GM are considered to by mild hybrids, and really don't belong in the same category as the other models. GM's status as a mild hybrid company will change in the coming year, but it's unclear as to whether they will break out their hybrid car sales.
A Short Term Drop in Sales
At one point, in August and September, hybrid car sales dropped for the first time. The drops were related to the changeover in model years at Toyota (especially the Highlander Hybrid) and sluggish sales of the Honda Civic Hybrid. The market quickly bounced back in November and December as gas prices continued to climb and the changeover was completed.
New Models in 2007
In 2006, two hybrid car models were introduced and one was retired. Of the two introduced models, the Toyota Camry Hybrid and the Lexus GS 450h, the Camry Hybrid quickly become the second most popular hybrid, right behind the Prius. That provided a large boost to last years hybrid car sales figures. The retirement of the low production Insight did very little to to deter the sales numbers.
The two models introduced this year, the Nissan Altima Hybrid and the LS 600h L, provided only a limited increase in hybrid car sales. I'll talk more about the Nissan Altima Hybrid below, but the Lexus LS 600h L (in Lexus terminology, the h stands for hybrid and the L stands for long) is a luxury model and was expected to sell in limited numbers.
The Failure of the Honda Accord Hybrid
Over the past year, the Honda Accord Hybrid was acknowledged a failure by Honda by its announced retirement and will not be replaced. Instead, Honda is hoping to challenge Toyota in the coming years by introducing a hybrid similar to the Prius (at least in performance and fuel economy) and a hybrid sports car. Honda has predicted that 10% of its sales will come from hybrids in 2010 (or so).
The Prius Takes Off
The Prius production bottleneck was broken in the first quarter of 2007 and sales quickly took off. The Prius became one of the top 10 best selling cars on the market in the US. It dominates the hybrid marketplace, continually pushing and challenging the rest of the car makers. In 2006, Toyota sold an average of 8,900 Prius a month. In 2007, the average jumped up to 15,100 Prius a month, the high point coming in May when they sold over 24,000 units.
Ford and Nissan Stall
Ford stalled and stymied its own growth, and except for the soon to be released Mazda Tribute Hybrid (cousin to the already Ford Escape Hybrid and Mercury Mariner Hybrid) doesn't seem to be interested in getting back into the hybrid game. So, Ford only increased hybrid sales an average of 100 units or so from the year before, most likely based on pressure from gas prices.
Nissan introduced the Altima Hybrid, but did so in such a limited fashion it can't seem to take off the way the Camry Hybrid did. Limited to sales in just eight states, the Altima Hybrid sold on average of 760 hybrids a month.
|Make||Model||Cumulative, 2006||Cumulative, 2007||% Change|
Some models clearly flourished while other floundered. Meanwhile, the Prius brought itself, if not all hybrids, into the mainstream in 2007. Toyota has clearly taken control of the hybrid car marketplace, practically defining what a hybrid is and by example, are challenging the other car makers to follow. However, Nissan and Ford seem to have very little interest in competing.
What's Up For Hybrid Car Sales in 2008?
So the big question in 2008 pertains to Honda and GM. Honda is going to start phasing out it's federal tax credits next quarter. Will they be able to compete without them? Will they start offering more rebates and other incentives to move the Civic Hybrid, the last hybrid in their lineup? They will also need to make some big progress in developing their 'global hybrid' car. Will Honda overcome it's past difficulties? Will they continue to be seen as being as the greenest company if they can't compete in the hybrid marketplace?
Meanwhile GM will begin introducing a hybrid every quarter for the next few years. Will GM (and Chrysler and BMW) sell any of their behemoth dual mode hybrid SUVs? Only time (and consumers) can tell. GM is also promising a plug-in hybrid Vue in the next few years. Will they be able to follow through? Will the Volt, with all the positive PR they've received so far, backfire if they can't get it out the door in 2010? GM seems to be the company to watch over the next couple of years for these reasons.