Propelled by healthy inventories, increased incentives and a slight uptick in consumer confidence and willingness to make big-ticket expenditures, November sales of conventional and plug-in hybrids and battery-electric vehicles hit an eight-month high of 27,897, soaring 34 percent above advanced-drive vehicle sales for November 2010. Most of the gain came from increased sales of the segment-leading Toyota Prius (above) and its Lexus cousin, the CT200h. Sales of General Motors' Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid and Nissan's Leaf EV also added to the month's showings as did the presence in the market of several conventional and micro- hybrids that weren't available a year earlier.
"Prius sales were juiced by an increase in incentives that climbed 46% from $1,064 in October to $1,586 in November," said Edmunds.com market analyst Ivan Drury. "We also saw some of the newer entrants moving a good number of units and even the Ford Escape hybrid sold more than last year," apparently on word that Ford has discontinued the model and dealers were willing to deal — with general consumers and fleet buyers — to get rid of their remaining inventory, he said. Sales of the Prius — and all other Japanese-built hybrids — also benefitted from the restoration of inventories that had been thinned considerably by plant shutdowns and delivery delays in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that ravaged Japan in March.
November's 34 percent increase in advanced-drive sales contrasts sharply with the 13.4 percent boost on sales of conventionally powered cars and trucks, but isn't necessarily a portent of blazing future growth. Instead, it seems more of an adjustment that brought the year into alignment. The strong November 2011 advanced-drive vehicle sales pulled the year just about even with 2010 sales in the segment. And that's with the Leaf and Volt, both introduced in the 12th month last year, accounting for about 14,000 of this year's sales. In all, total advanced-drive sales for the first 11 months of the year totaled 243,040 cars, trucks and SUVs, down a barely discernable 0.2 percent from 243,589 in the same period of 2010.
Toyota remained firmly entrenched as the segment leader with 68.8 percent of all hybrid and EV sales for November, followed by a surging Ford at 9.3 percent and General Motors — its sales energized by the addition of the Buick LaCRosse and Regal "e-Assist" micro-hybrid models — at 6.5 percent. Honda, which has typically been the No. 2 or 3 hybrid seller, fell into fourth place with a 5.6 percent share on weak sales of the CR-Z and Insight hybrids. Hyundai, with a 4.2 market share, Nissan with a 2.8 percent share and Kia, new to the scene with a 1.9 percent share for it Optima hybrid sedan, rounded out the "big seven" advanced-drive sellers. Completing the segment were Porsche, with a 0.5 percent market share; Mercedes-Benz, with a 0.3 percent slice; and Volkswagen and BMW, each with 0.1 per cent shares of the market.
Toyota: Prius Leads Sales
The advanced-drive segment's big bruiser, Toyota Motor Corp., continued its decade-long reign with sales in November of 19,181 hybrids, up from 14,041 a year earlier. The Prius led the November 2011 hybrid sales pack with 15,208 sales, a gain of nearly 49 percent from 10,224 a year earlier. That included 3,545 sales for the new Prius V wagon, nearly a quarter of the total. The Lexus CT200h sporty hybrid, whose powertrain is derived from the Prius, also showed well with 1,759 sales for the month. It wasn't offered in 2010.
Other members of the Toyota-Lexus hybrid lineup didn't do so well. On the Lexus side of the ledger, the venerable RX450h crossover fell 28 percent to 928 sales; the long-wheelbase LS600h L sold just 5 models, down from 13; dealers unloaded 207 GS450h sedans, down from 788, and the GS450h, which was up a tad, accounted for only 22 sales, versus 18 a year earlier. The two remaining Toyota brand hybrids also had a disappointing month, the Camry Hybrid racking up just 730 sales, down 25 percent, and the Highlander Hybrid SUV accounting for 322 sales, off 55 percent from November 2010 levels.
Ford: Shifts Into Second
It's soon-to-be discontinued Escape hybrid crossover SUV was its leading advanced-drive seller in November, but Ford hopes to remain in the top tier in the segment with the upcoming Focus EV and C-Max hybrid and plug-in hybrid models. Meantime, while its 2,599 hybrid sales in November fell almost 7 percent below year-earlier levels, the volume was good enough to keep Ford ahead of nine other automakers selling advanced-drive cars, trucks and SUVs. The Escape's 1,131 sales made it the fifth-best selling advanced-drive vehicle of the month, 48 percent above November 2010 levels. The Ford Fusion hybrid sedan, once a high flyer, dropped 29 percent to 993 sales and the Lincoln MKZ — an upscale version of the Fusion hybrid — accounted for 475 sales, up 21 percent from a year earlier.
GM: 'E-Assist' Provides Boost
General Motors family of hybrids hasn't done well in the past year, the dual-hybrid trucks proving too expensive and the rest just not giving consumers what they wanted and ultimately dropping by the wayside. But the addition in November of two members of the Buick family with GM's new "e-Assist" micro-hybrid system, combined with boosted supplies of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, hauled GM out of the advanced-drive segment's cellar. Total advanced-drive sales of 1,822 hybrids in November put the General far ahead of the paltry 317 sales total it recorded a year earlier.
The Volt accounted for 1,139 sales, its best month ever after GM doubled production earlier this summer; the Buick LaCrosse eAssist wracked up 522 sales and the Regal eAssist chipped in with 37 more. Of the remaining GM hybrids, dealers sold 30 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid SUVs, down from 79 a year earlier; the Chevy Silverado Hybrid pickup was good for 37 sales, down from 38; the Chevy Tahoe Hybrid SUV tallied 28 sales, down from 69; the GMC Yukon Hybrid brought in 21 sales, versus 65 a year earlier, and the GMC Sierra Hybrid pickup accounted for only 8 sales, down from 59.
Honda: Down 50 Percent
Honda Motor Co. has had its woes this year — criticized for bland cars and a paucity of exciting future prospects, and its hybrids haven't escaped the fallout. The company's total November sales of 1,557 hybrids were down 50 percent from 3,172 in November 2010. While still leading he company's lineup, the Civic Hybrid accounted for only 503 sales, down from 612 a year earlier. The Insight — once touted as a potential challenger to the Prius, logged only 749 sales, half its November 2010 tally, while the sporty CR-Z was good for 305 sales, down 70 percent.
Hyundai: One Good Number
Hyundai sells only one hybrid, but the gas-electric Sonata is doing well enough to keep the company in the top half of the hybrid-selling tier. Still, the bloom may be fading - dealers sold 1,175 hybrid Sonata sedans in November, good enough to make it the No. 3 advanced-drive vehicle in the country but the lowest month for the car since June.
Nissan: Slowing Down
Sales of its Leaf EV dropped to just 639 units in November (it wasn't sold a year earlier), the EV's worst performance since April, and Nissan's two hybrids barely register. The Nissan Altima Hybrid sedan is being discontinued and is only sold in a handful of states anyway — November sales of 56 models was way down from 434 a year earlier. The Infiniti M35 hybrid, introduced five months ago and on sale in all 50 states, hasn't caught on — November was its second-best month so far, but sales of just 46 models hardly qualifies it as a success. In all, Nissan sold 773 hybrids and EVs during the month, up 78 percent from a year earlier. A Nissan spokesman said that the Leaf slowdown was due in part from the changeover from 2011 to 2012 models and also to logistic issues related to shipping as the U.S. market for the car was expanded to several more states.
Kia: New Player, No Record
Kia, which uses platforms and powertrains from big brother Hyundai for its mainstream vehicles, is doing the same as it enters the hybrid market. The Optima Hybrid sedan, a close sibling to Hyundai's Sonata Hybrid, made a fairly strong debut in November — strong for a new hybrid, anyhow — with 524 sales. While Kia has no hybrid record to lean on, the relative success of the Sonata is likely to help the lower-priced Optima Hybrid gain momentum.
The No. 7 ranked company in the advanced-rive segment has a mere 1.9 percent share of that market, but that's almost double the total combined market share of the next five players, whose total is just 1 percent. All sell fairly high-priced models that aren't volume sellers even in conventional gasoline-only dress. Porsche was tops in November, with its Cayenne hybrid SUV's 140 sales good for a 0.5 percent share of the advanced-drive market. Mercedes-Benz was next, with two models accounting for a 0.3 percent share. The Mercedes S-Class Hybrid was the month's leader with 69 sales, up from 39 a year earlier. Two new-for-2011 models fill out the Mercedes advanced-drive lineup, the M-Class Hybrid SUV with 14 sales and the B-Class hydrogen fuel cell model delivering a single lease.
Volkswagen, with 21 sales of its hybrid Touareg SUV (a Cayenne sibling), scored a 0.1 percent market share. BMW tied VW with a 0.1 percent share, thanks to the practice of rounding up, but sold just 17 models of its two hybrids. BMW dealers sold an even dozen of the ActiveHybrid 7 sedan and 5 ActiveHybrid X6 SUVs. Mitsubishi Motors, another new player in the advanced-drive segment, brught up the rear with sales of 4 of its newly introduced "i" model all-electric city cars and a market share of just 0.01 percent.