Hybrid cars are like the little engine that could. When the technology was first introduced to the U.S. market (fittingly, mass-produced hybrids made their debut on American shores at the dawn of the new millennium), buyers had the choice of, well, one vehicle: the cramped, eccentric Honda Insight. Sales figures reflected this narrow range, as well as the public's initial cautiousness regarding this new technology. In 2000, only 9,350 hybrid cars were sold.
Six years later, the picture has changed dramatically. Automakers have gotten on board. The selection of hybrids on the market currently numbers in the double digits, with manufacturers like Ford, Honda, Lexus and Toyota each offering a take on the increasingly popular green machines. There are hybrid coupes and sedans, and even hybrid SUVs.
Consumers have gotten on board as well. Hybrid sales have increased steadily since 2000, and by 2005, the segment had grown a whopping 2,200 percent since the technology's debut; 205,749 of the eco-friendly fuel-sippers made it off the lot last year. This trend doesn't seem likely to lose steam anytime soon. Hybrid vehicle sales figures for the first six months of 2006 have been robust, and stand at just over 116,000 units. Currently, hybrids constitute just over 1 percent of total vehicle sales, but some predict a much stronger market presence in the years ahead.
So which vehicles are at the forefront of this hybrid revolution? Here are the 10 that topped the sales chart for the first six months of 2006.
1. Toyota Prius — 48,156 units
The second oldest hybrid on the market, the Prius is also the most widely known, and it shows. The sedan is far and away the market leader, with sales that account for nearly 50 percent of the hybrid segment.
2. Toyota Highlander Hybrid — 18,127 units
Introduced in June 2005 for the 2006 model year, the Highlander Hybrid is new, but that hasn't stopped it from shoring up an impressive fan base. Toyota's second hybrid outsold older hybrid SUVs like the Ford Escape to cruise into the No. 2 spot.
3. Honda Civic Hybrid — 15,755 units
The prudent Civic has an even more prudent sibling: the Civic Hybrid. It was the second best-selling hybrid in the nation last year, but thus far, 2006 finds it taking the bronze.
4. Lexus RX 400h — 11,193 units
Based on the popular RX 330, the RX 400h was the first luxury hybrid SUV. Luxury clearly has its supporters. The ute was the third best-selling hybrid last year, and this year it maintains its foothold in the upper reaches of the sales chart.
5. Ford Escape Hybrid — 10,190 units
Ford proved that SUVs can be green, too, when it introduced the Escape Hybrid, the nation's first hybrid SUV, back in 2001. Five years later, the compact ute continues to rack up impressive sales.
6. Toyota Camry Hybrid — 7,386 units
Toyota continues its domination of the hybrid segment with the Camry Hybrid. The sedan has only been on the market since May, but it's off to an exceptional start. Sales figures for May and June are second only to those of the Prius.
7. Honda Accord Hybrid — 3,245 units
Equipped with a V6, the Accord Hybrid was the first hybrid built with driving enthusiasts in mind. Fuel economy suffers, though; the car gets about the same mileage as a four-cylinder Accord. Perhaps that's why sales have been somewhat disappointing.
8. Mercury Mariner Hybrid — 1,461 units
Introduced for model-year 2006, the Mariner Hybrid shares the Escape Hybrid's basic structure, platform and powertrain, but seeks to offer a more upscale driving experience via a more stylish exterior and a luxurious cabin. Thus far, it hasn't been nearly as successful as its twin.
9. Lexus GS 450h — 525 units
Introduced just a couple of months ago, the GS 450h is the nation's first luxury/sport sedan hybrid. Its powertrain offers V8 power paired with the fuel economy of a small V6.
10. Honda Insight — 489 units
The Insight is the hybrid that launched the segment; it's also the one that gets the best mileage. Sadly, its tight quarters and less-than-brisk horsepower prevented it from finding mainstream success. The Insight was discontinued in September 2006; Honda plans to introduce a new hybrid-specific model in 2009.
Sources: Electric Drive Transportation Association, Hybridcars.com and Ford Motor Company