August Doesn't End Advanced-Drive Sales SlumpBy John O'Dell September 6, 2011
Falling fuel prices in the first part of the month combined with consumers continued grim economic outlook to keep a lid on sales of hybrid and other electric-drive vehicles in August. Even the addition of sales tallies for ten models that werent available in August last year - including the Nissan Leaf EV and Chevrolet Volt extended-range plug-in hybrid didnt help as overall sales fell 15 percent compared with August, 2010. While consumers continue to show interest in fuel efficiency with gasoline prices still well in excess of $3.50 per gallon and heading up again as the month ended, the advanced-drive vehicles are hurt in a weak economy by the higher prices demanded by their costly batteries and electronic control systems.
For the month, automakers sold 20,152 advanced-drive vehicles, down from 23,755 a year earlier. That 15.2 percent drop contrasts to an 8.3 percent increase in sales of conventionally powered cars and light trucks in August. Sales of hybrid and other electric-drive vehicles also have been stymied by competition from growing numbers of new conventional car and SUV models with lower prices and relatively high combined city and highway fuel efficiency vehicles such as Mitsubishis 27 mpg Outlander Sport SUV, Chevrolets 30 mpg Cruze and the 32 mpg 4-cylinder Honda Civic.
August sales data does appear at first glance to indicate a new direction for the advanced-drive segment sales were up 12.4 percent from the previous month. But the entire increase was accounted for by just four of the 32 models in the market, Toyotas perennial favorites, the Prius hybrid hatchback and Lexus RX450h SUV, the new Lexus CT200h hatchback (top) and the all-electric Nissan Leaf. That Toyota has three of the four hybrid gainers doesnt mean it is on any kind of a roll in fact, Toyotas sales in the segment were down 14.1 percent compared with August, 2010. Rather, the companys supply lines finally are starting to fill after production and delivery cutbacks caused by disruption in Japan from the March earthquake and tsunami that rocked that nation.
Basically, what were seeing is that these advanced-drive models, most of them made in Japan, are just starting to recover from inventory issues related to the earthquake, said Edmunds.com analyst Ivan Drury. Only three models that were also sold in August, 2010, posted year-over year gains: Nissans Altima Hybrid sedan, up 12 percent, Hondas CR-Z, up 7.3 percent and Lexus low-volume GS450h sedan, up 13.3 percent.
Toyota: Still Reigns Supreme
As has been the case for more than a decade, Toyota retains a firm grip on hybrid sales leadership despite its dip compared with August 2010. Its 13,273 total sales of advanced-drive models represented a 20.2 increase from July and were good for a 65.9 percent share of the of the segment total. The Prius was the top model with 9,491 sales up 20 percent from July, although down by almost the same margin compared with last August. Other models in the Toyota-brand stable are the Camry Hybrid, with 318 sales, down 19.1 percent from the previous month and off 72.7 percent from a year earlier, and the Highlander Hybrid SUV, up 22percent for the month with 226 sales, but down 53.5 percent from August 2010.
For Lexus, where Toyota has concentrated its hybrid-model lineup in order to help justify the technology premium it charges by draping them in luxury trim, the new-for-2011 CT200h was the star with 2,087 sales, up 34.4 percent for the month. The RX450h, with 841 sales, was up 25.3 percent for the month but down 38.4 percent from a year earlier. Finishing third among Lexus hybrids was the HS250h sedan, down 7.2 percent for the month and 52.2 percent year-over-year with 284 sales. Two low-volume cars, the GS450h with 17 sales and the LS600h L, with 9 sales, finish the list.
Toyota is readying a rechargeable plug-in Prius with additional all-electric range, and an all-electric RAV4 SUV, powered by batteries and motors supplied by Tesla Motors, for its 2012 lineup and industry watchers expect those models to further strengthen the automakers dominant position in the advanced-drive market.
Honda: Hanging Onto Second
Although it has just three hybrid models, American Honda Motor Co. Inc. has managed to hand onto second place as a raft of competitors jumped into the market over the past three years. Its total August advanced-drive vehicle sales of 1,812 represented a 16.7-percent decline from July and a 48-percent plunge from August, 2010. Dealers sold only 106 Civic Hybrid sedans, as supplies of the 2011 version have dried up and the redesigned 2012 Civic Hybrid is just now being delivered to Honda stores. Hondas hybrid sales leader was the smaller and less-expensive Insight, down 2.6 percent for the month and, at 961 sales, off 52.7 percent from August, 2010. The 2-seat CR-Z sporty hybrid, at 745 sales, was down 15.1 percent from July but up 7.3 percent from a year earlier.
Nissan: Electric Number Three
For years an also-ran in the advanced-drive world with but one model the Altima Hybrid sedan (and that soon-to-be-defunct model sold only in seven states) Nissan has jumped into a recent third place on the strength of deliveries of its all-electric Leaf hatchback. Its a commentary, though, on the relative weakness of the hybrid and EV market in the U.S. that Nissan held down the No. 3 position in August with sales of just 1,734 vehicles and that only one the new and still ultra-low volume Infiniti M35 hybrid is being offered nationally. The Altima Hybrid, whose 318 sales represented a 55.9 percent increase from July and a 12 percent hike from August 2010, still is sold in just seven states and is being phased out for at least a year while Nissan reportedly develops a new hybrid-drive system for its mainstream passenger car thats not based on technology licensed from Toyota.
The Leaf, which ultimately will be offered in all states, still is in the first stage of a phased rollout plan and Nissan is filling orders that were placed months ago by residents of the initial early adopter states selected by corporate marketing gurus. Nissan delivered 1,362 EVs in August, up 46.3 percent from July. The company has delivered 6,187 Leafs since its December launch. The Infiniti M35 hybrid with a gas-electric drive system developed in-house accounted for 54 sales in August, up from 35 in July.
Hyundai: One-Model Marvel
South Koreas Hyundai has taken Nissans place as a purveyor of a single hybrid, the gas-electric version of its popular new 2011 Sonata sedan. But Sonata Hybrid sales have been strong enough to propel the company into fourth place in the market with as 7.2 percent share. Hyundai does not split hybrid sales from overall sales of its Sonata line, but registration data collected by Edmunds.com, which corresponds closely with monthly sales, puts Augusts total at 1,448, down a scant 1 percent from June. About three of every four Sonata hybrid buyers is moving out of a competitors car, with only 24 percent of sales to customers who already owned a Hyundai, said company spokesman Jim Trainor. In contrast, the Toyota Camry Hybrid gets 54% of is buyers from among the ranks of Toyota owners. The top makes contributing to Sonata Hybrids conquest list, Trainor said, are Toyota, which accounts for 10% of the Sonata hybrids buyers, Honda, 9 percent and Chevrolet, Nissan and Ford at 6 percent each.
Ford: Fading To Fifth
Ford dealers have been selling the companys Escape Hybrid SUV and Fusion Hybrid sedan almost quickly as they get them the average gas-electric Fusion sat on a dealers lot for just 25 days in June, about half the average for a car in that segment. But the so-called days-to-turn rate has slowed it was 56 days for the Fusion Hybrid in August and sales have dropped as well. Edmunds sales analyst Drury says thats likely because inventories, and thus choices, are low. The Escape Hybrid is about to be replaced with an updated model and production or delivery to dealers of the Fusion Hybrid apparently has slowed (Ford hasnt said why) with August inventories at slightly less than 1,000 cars nationally.
That has slowed sales considerably more than competition or a weak economy should account for, he said Ford dealers sold just 216 Fusion Hybrids in August, down 52.6 percent from June and a 92.8-percent plummet compared with August, 2010, levels. The Escape Hybrid looked stronger, at 563 sales for the month, but that still was a 13.7-percent dip from July and was off 22.7 from a year earlier. Fords third hybrid, the Fusion-based Lincoln MKZ, outsold its Blue Oval sibling for the second consecutive month, its 491 sales representing as 2.3 percent hike from June. The Lincoln hybrid was available in August, 2010.
GM: No Voltage
General Motors may be poised to become the worlds largest automaker once again, but its presence in the hybrid market has shrunk to almost nothing. The companys dual-mode hybrid trucks and SUVs carry such a high technology premium as much as $9,000 more than conventionally powered versions that no one in the company has to be able to count higher than 100 to tally monthly sales of most models. As GMs conventional-hybrid fortunes waned, the company threw its still-considerable development might into the range-extended Volt plug-in hybrid. The 4-seat, $40,000 hybrid was launched with great fanfare in December as the thinking consumers alternative to the range anxiety that limits consideration for battery-electric vehicles.
But deliveries of the Volt have slowed considerably in recent months and GM dealers moved only 302 of the cars in August. That was almost 1.5 times Junes sales level of just 125 Volts and GM says the slowdown is intentional. It shuttered the Volt plant for more than a month in June and July to retool from production of the 2012 model and has been sending most of the plants new production to dealers around the country for use as demonstration models. GM spokesman Rob Peterson said 700 Volts built in August were delivered to dealers and several hundred more still are in transit. Production in September, and beyond, he said, is scheduled to average 600 Volts a week and GM remains on target to deliver 10,000 Volts to U.S. dealers by the end of the year. That doesnt address the question of how many the company expects to sell, but GM executives continue to insist that demand for the car equals or outstrips production plans.
As for the remainder of GMs advanced-drive lineup, the leader with 40 August sales was the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid SUV (), unchanged from July and down 54.5 percent from a year earlier. The Chevy Tahoe Hybrid and GMC Yukon Hybrid SUVs and the Chevy Silverado 1500 Hybrid full-size pickup came next, with 18 sales each, followed by the GMC Sierra 1500 Hybrid pickup with five sales. The Tahoe was down 30 percent from June and 79.5 percent from August 2010; the Yukon was off 61 percent from June and 76 percent from a year earlier, Silverado sales fell 31 percent from June levels and 94.5 percent from a year earlier, and Sierra hybrid sales were down 54.5 percent from June and 90 percent from August 2010.
The Rest: Four With Futures?
The remaining hybrid sellers have no place to go but up all are just getting started and have plans to add additional advanced-drive vehicles, including more conventional hybrids, plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles, in the months and years to come. The industrys driver is continued federal policy pushing vehicle electrification as the quickest means of dramatically reducing both oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in the passenger vehicle fleet. Combined, the four BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Volkswagen, accounted for just 1 percent of the U.S. advanced-drive market in August. All sell relatively pricey, low-volume models.
Porsche was the leader with a 0.6 percent market share, accounted for by sales of 128 of its Cayenne Hybrid SUVs, an amount virtually unchanged from 130 in June. Mercedes-Benz, with two hybrids and a demonstration-model fuel-cell electric vehicle available for limited leasing, came next with a total of 63 sales 49 S-Class hybrids, up from 44 in June, seven M-Class hybrids, down from eight in June, and seven B-Class fuel-cell vehicle leases, up from a single lease in June. BMW, with sales of eight ActiveHybrid 7 sedans up from seven in June and five ActiveHybrid X6 crossovers, down from six in June was third in the group, with Volkswagen finishing fourth with sales of ten Touareg Hybrid SUVs, down from 14 in June. None of the four had advanced-drive vehicles in the market a year ago.