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Hybrid and EV Sales Charge Ahead this Summer

9/17/2012
In light of prices climbing at gas pumps across the United States--an average gallon of unleaded regular last week was $3.87 per gallon, up 17 cents from just a month ago--demand for more fuel-efficient vehicles has been increasing. In August, hybrid and EV sales* rose significantly, particularly due to a special promotion for one model--the Chevy Volt--and revitalized inventories and new models available in the Toyota Prius family.

Sales more than doubled for the best-selling Prius hybrid in August. Last month, Toyota sold 14,358 Prius hybrids. The Toyota hybrid was the 21st most popular model in the U.S. market. Through the first 8 months of 2012, Toyota delivered 111,207 Priuses and the fuel-efficient hybrid hatchback was the 20th most popular model in the United States year to date.

If Toyota's expanded family of Priuses, including the new Prius C sub-compact and Prius V compact MPV, are added in, totals climb to 164,408 unit sales--which nearly doubles last year's Prius deliveries (+95%).**

Unfortunately, Honda, which like Toyota achieved a high double-digit sales rebound in the U.S. market in August (+53.6%) and year to date (+22.6%), saw sales of its latest Insight hybrid/electric hatchback (introduced in 2010), continue to slump. Through the first 8 months, deliveries of Honda's all-new hybrid model were off by nearly 63.4% from a year ago to 4,801 unit sales vs. 13,106 a year ago.

Toyota had more good news to celebrate with its family of alternative powertrain vehicles. The Prius plug-in hybrid electric model (PHEV), which offers a standard 50 mpg EPA-rated Prius hybrid powertrain with extended electric vehicle (EV) driving, tallied more than 6,000 unit sales after the first 6 months on the market, Toyota says. (The Prius Plug-in qualifies for a federal tax credit of up to $2,500 in addition to the State of California's Clean Vehicle Rebate Program (CVRP), which offers a $1,500 rebate.)

Another PHEV to boast better sales in August was General Motors' Chevrolet Volt, introduced as a 2011 model in late 2010. Chevrolet sold or leased 2,831 Volts in August--a major surge from sales of 302 a year ago. Through the first 8 months of 2012, Volt deliveries have more than quadrupled from last year's 3,172 unit sales to 13,497 units. In fact, Volt deliveries have significantly surpassed totals for the full 12 months of 2011--7,671 units.

Demand for the Volt, which with its on-board engine has a driving range of some 434 miles before recharge and refill, may have been bolstered by a summer $279 per-month lease contract promotion that ended in the first week of September. The 2012 Volt, which delighted new owners and ranked highest in the compact car segment in the J.D. Power and Associates 2012 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study,SM has a starting retail price of $39,145--or $31,465 with tax credits. The new 2013 model is even more economical--it has a bigger battery and bumps the electric-only range from 35 miles up to 38 before switching over to the gasoline engine.

In August and year to date, pure EVs were not quite as popular as a year ago. The eye-catching Nissan Leaf all-electric compact car, introduced in late 2010, posted sales of just 685 units last month--about half of August sales in 2011. Year-to-date Leaf deliveries declined to 4,228 units vs. 6,168 unit sales in the first 8 months of 2011. In all of 2011, 9,674 Leaf EV compacts were sold in the U.S. market.

Another new pure EV, the Mitsubishi i MiEV, also posted slim deliveries. Only 37 of them were sold in August and 403 were delivered in the first 8 months. However, if gas prices continue to climb, demand for the tiny commuter EV that has a range of about 62 miles on a single charge could perk up.

In addition to true hybrid and EV models on the market, there is an array of hybrid variants of 32 conventionally powered models, including hybrid electric and plug-in hybrid electric-powered versions of best-selling sedans, such as the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Ford Fusion. Altogether, there are 45 hybrid and EV mass-market and luxury models sold or leased in the U.S. market, according to global powertrain expert Mike Omotoso at LMC Automotive, a J.D. Power strategic partner. More of these much more fuel-efficient alternative models and variants will be introduced in the future.

For more information about EV tax advantages, please click on IRS site.

*Sales numbers are based on transaction data collected and analyzed by J.D. Power's Power Information Network(R) (PIN) with strategic partner LMC Automotive.

**All percentage changes are selling-day adjusted.

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