Big Bucks on the Hood of Pricey HybridsBy Bill Visnic October 5, 2009
Low gas prices and even lower demand in the luxury market have conspired to short-circuit sales of premium hybrid-electric vehicles. Now, as the fourth quarter begins to wind down a fairly lousy year for auto sales - and new 2010 models are shouldering their way onto dealer lots - automakers are piling on some fantastic incentives in the hope of clearing out leftover big-money hybrids.
Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus premium division, owner of the market's most-expensive hybrid in its LS 600h L, rang in October with a bulging $10,000 dealer-cash incentive on the '09 model of the flagship hybrid. The company also is offered a bounty of $1,000 to any sales associate selling an '09 LS 600h L, which starts at $106,035.
Toyota doesn't break out sales of the hybrid LS in its monthly sales reports, but sales of the entire LS line are down 53.7 percent through September as sales in almost all luxury segments continue to fade.
Meanwhile, General Motors Co.'s Cadillac unit has seen dealers in various regions advertising five-figure discounts for the 2009 Escalade Hybrid, which starts at $73,135 and ranging to $87,435 for the four-wheel-drive Platinum Edition. Total Escalade sales are off about 44 percent for the year.
Similar givebacks have been available for the more-pedestrian but still-costly Chevrolet and GMC variants of the fullsize SUV platform that employs GM's once-vaunted "two-mode" hybrid transmission whose placement in such ambitiously priced vehicles has rendered the technology a low-volume footnote in the hybrid sales charts.
Lexus also has instituted a large incentive on the hybrid variant of its GS midsize sedan. The '09 GS 450h has a $3,000 dealer-cash incentive and the same $1,000 bonus for sales associates. And the GS 450h also qualifies for special lease rates.
Data analysts at Edmunds.com said in September that the premium luxury segment, with an average Total Cost of Incentives of $6,551 per vehicle, was second only to the premium sportscar segment in leading the industry in incentive spending per vehicle.
Edmunds.com also projects sales incentives will increase for most automakers for the rest of the year. - Bill Visnic, senior contributing editor
The Lexus LS 460h is the industry's most-expensive hybrid-electric vehicle and carries a proportionally large incentive. (courtesy Toyota Motor Corp.)
Cadillac's Escalade still is the choice SUV of the rich and athletic, but even NFL players may be conditioned to expect a little something off MSRP for the hybrid variant. (courtesy General Motors Co.)