October Advanced-Drive Sales Still SlowBy Danny King November 7, 2011
October advanced-drive vehicle sales remained substantially below year-earlier figures as record sales of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid were more than offset by plunging sales of Honda and Ford hybrid vehicles. Sales did jump from the previous month to their highest level in six months as vehicle inventories continued to climb from mid-year lows, but with gas prices on a steady decline since May and a U.S. economy that remains shaky, fewer people were willing to pay the price premium for a hybrid vehicle than they were in October 2010. Not even the availability of nine advanced-drive models that weren't available to the American public a year ago helped, in part because Japanese automakers such as Honda continued to be hamstrung by low inventory levels stemming from the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March.
Automakers sold 21,394 advanced-drive vehicles in October, down from 24,181 a year earlier. That 12 percent drop contrasts with a 7.4 percent increase in sales of conventionally powered cars and light trucks in October. Sales of hybrid and other electric-drive vehicles also have been stymied by competition from growing numbers of new conventional car models offering highway fuel efficiency figures that exceed the magic 40 miles per gallon mark - cars such as the Chevrolet Sonic, Hyundai Accent and Ford Fiesta.
Toyota: Down The New 'Up'
Toyota continues to be by far the largest supplier of hybrid vehicles to the U.S., selling 66 percent of the advanced-drive vehicles in the U.S. last month, up from 65 percent in September. Toyota Prius sales jumped 18 percent from a month prior to 11,008 vehicles, the most since April, but were off 6.2 percent from a year earlier. And while sales of both the Toyota Camry Hybrid and Highlander Hybrid also were up from September, they were down substantially from a year earlier. The Camry Hybrid's 333 vehicles sold represented a 72 percent drop from October 2010 and Highlander Hybrid sales were off 68 percent.
For Lexus, where Toyota has concentrated its hybrid-model lineup in order to help justify the technology premium it charges by draping them in the marques luxury trim, October sales of the new-for-2011 CT200h hatchback edged up 4.6 percent from September to 1,511 vehicles. The RX450h SUV, with 861 vehicles sold, jumped 32 percent from September but was down 39 percent from a year earlier. Finishing third among Lexus hybrids was the HS250h sedan, down 74 percent form a year earlier with just 205 vehicles sold. Two low-volume cars, the GS450h and LS600h L sedans combined for 27 sales in October.
Toyota is readying a redesigned Camry Hybrid, 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 automaker's dominant position in the advanced-drive market.
Ford: Jumped Into Second
Ford jumped to second-place among sellers of U.S. advanced-drive vehicles, up from fifth place in August and leapfrogged Hyundai, Honda and Nissan in the process. Hyundai sells only one hybrid model and the two Japanese automakers both have been hamstrung in recent months by inventory issues stemming from the Japan tsunami. October marked the third consecutive month of hybrid-vehicle sales gains for Ford, whose 1,907 advanced-drive vehicle sales in October marked a 21 percent jump from September and was its highest number since June. The automaker will look for further advanced-drive vehicle gains as the Ford Focus Electric hits the market later this year.
Still, Ford's hybrid sales numbers reflect a 36 percent plunge from a year earlier. Edmunds.com market analyst Ivan Drury said that drop may stem from prospective buyers waiting for new models from Ford and other automakers to arrive. Ford dealers sold 857 Fusion Hybrids in October, up 55 percent from September but down 48 percent from October 2010, as some potential buyers may have either opted for the new Hyundai Sonata Hybrid or are waiting for the new Toyota Camry Hybrid to hit dealer lots. The Escape Hybrid's sales of 573 vehicles was little-changed from September and marked a 25 percent drop from a year earlier. That model will undergo a redesign for the 2012 model year, and that may be causing some buyers to hold out, said Drury. Ford's third hybrid, the Fusion-based Lincoln MKZ, fared better, its 477 October sales marking a 4.8 percent increase from September and a 30 percent jump from a year earlier.
GM: Charged Up
General Motors had the largest year-over-year advanced-drive vehicle sales jump of the major automakers that were selling hybrids a year ago. Most of the gain came from sales of the Chevy Volt, which posted record deliveries in October thanks to increased inventories and an aggressive advertising campaign by GM. The automaker, which has long insisted that demand for the $40,000 four-seater equals or outstrips production plans, shuttered the Volt plant for more than a month in June and July to retool for production of the 2012 model and estimated that the company would be delivering as many as 600 Volts a week to dealers starting in September. Chevrolet dealers sold 1,108 Volts in October, easily eclipsing September's then record of 723 Volt sales. Additionally, GM sold 297 Buick LaCrosse Hybrids during the first month that model was available to the public.
Volt and LaCrosse Hybrid sales more than offset the continuing decline in sales of the company's old-guard hybrid advanced-drive vehicles - the dual-mode hybrid trucks and SUVs that carry as much as a $9,000 premium relative to conventionally powered versions. The Chevy Silverado 1500 Hybrid full-size pickup represented the best of the rest, chalking up 49 vehicle sales, down 35 percent from September and representing an 86 percent plunge from a year earlier. The Chevy Tahoe, Cadillac Escalade and GMC Yukon Hybrid SUVs had 35, 30 and 23 sales, respectively, all down at least 47 percent from a year earlier. The GMC Sierra 1500 Hybrid moved just 4 vehicles in October, marking an 88 percent drop from a year earlier.
Hyundai: Steady Rolling
South Korea's Hyundai last month overtook both Honda and Nissan among advanced-drive vehicle sellers in the U.S. Sales of its only hybrid, the gas-electric version of its popular new 2011 Sonata sedan, have been remarkably consistent. While Hyundai does not split hybrid sales from overall sales of its Sonata line, registration data collected by Edmunds.com, which corresponds closely with monthly sales, has shown Sonata hybrid sales of between 1,273 and 1,462 vehicles during each of the past five months. In October, Hyundai sold 1,364 of the gas-electric sedans, up 7.1 percent from September. Hyundai has estimated that about three of every four Sonata Hybrid buyers are moving out of a competitor's car, with Toyota and Honda owners each representing about 10 percent of Sonata Hybrid buyers.
Honda: Hands Tied
American Honda Motor Co. Inc. has dropped to fifth place among advanced-drive vehicle suppliers to the U.S. down from second place just two months ago. In October, Honda dealers sold 1,261 hybrids, representing a 69 percent plunge from a year earlier and marking the lowest monthly advanced-drive sales number for the company since January 2009. Honda sold 492 Insight hybrids, little changed from September but down 75 percent from October 2010. Much of that decline likely stems from inventory issues, as the average Insight sits on dealer lots for just 30 days - just over half the industry average - before being sold, according to Drury. Sales of the Civic Hybrid, which was redesigned for the 2012 model year, jumped 57 percent from September to 480 vehicles sold, but were 27 percent down from a year earlier. The CR-Z sporty hybrid, at 289 sales, was down 46 percent from September and down a whopping 80 percent from October 2010.
Nissan: Holding Pattern
Nissan, which has placed as rose as high as third place among advanced-drive vehicle makers this year, has since dropped to sixth as it remains in the first stage of a phased rollout plan for the all-electric Leaf while phasing out the Altima Hybrid sedan. The Leaf, introduced late last year, sold 849 units, down 18 percent from September and the model's lowest sales figure since April. The Altima Hybrid, which is being phased out for at least a year while Nissan develops a new hybrid-drive system for its mainstream passenger car, sold 49 vehicles in October, an 89 percent plunge from a year earlier and the lowest number since the model's early-2007 introduction to the U.S. The new and still ultra-low-volume Infiniti M35 Hybrid, whose gas-electric drive system was developed in-house, accounted for 33 sales in October, down from 45 in September.
Rest Of The Roster
The remaining four hybrid sellers - German automakers BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Volkswagen - all remain in the early stage of their advanced-drive vehicle development with plans to add additional conventional hybrids, plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles in the months and years to come. All four automakers sell relatively pricey, low-volume models, and view advanced-drive models as a way to meet progressively more stringent greenhouse-gas emissions standards in both the U.S. and Europe. Combined, the four automakers sold 201 advanced-drive vehicles last month, accounting for less than 1 percent of the U.S. total.
Porsche was the only automaker among the four to break the 100-unit mark, selling 107 of its Cayenne Hybrid SUVs in October, down from 112 in September. Mercedes-Benz, with two hybrids and a demonstration-model fuel-cell electric vehicle available for limited leasing, came next with a total of 60 sales - 46 S-Class hybrids, down from 72 in September; 12 M-Class hybrids, up from seven in September; and two B-Class fuel-cell vehicle leases, down from four in September. VW overtook BMW in October, with sales of 18 Touareg Hybrid SUVs. BMW sold 16 hybrids - 11 ActiveHybrid 7 sedans, up from nine in September; and five ActiveHybrid X6 crossovers, down from six in September. Of the four, only Mercedes-Benz had advanced-drive vehicles in the market a year ago.