green car sales

"Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss."

The classic couplet from the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" applies to April's alt-fuel vehicle sales, as Toyota not only continued to dominate the hybrid market, but also shoved aside the Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan Leaf in plug-in vehicle sales. Last month, Toyota sold 1,654 Prius Plug-in Hybrids. That total beat the 1,462 Volts sold and dominated the Leaf's 370 units sold in April.

The new Prius variant's popularity also helped Toyota easily continue its reign as the most popular seller of alt-fuel vehicles to the U.S. while helping push total alt-fuel sales far beyond year-earlier figures despite the fact that last month's 24 selling days were three fewer than the 27 selling days in April 2011.

Overall U.S. sales of hybrids, plug-in hybrids, battery-electric and diesel-powered vehicles jumped more than 50 percent from a year earlier to almost 50,000 vehicles, as Americans stepped up alt-fuel sales to cope with continually high gas prices.

Coming off its most successful single month of sales since its introduction to the U.S. in 2000, the Prius doubled its April sales from a year earlier. The "standard" Prius Liftback sales increased 26 percent from a year earlier, while the Prius C compact and Prius V wagon moved 4,006 and 3,847 units, respectively.

That success carried through to other Toyota-produced models, as non-Prius Toyota hybrids (i.e. the Camry and Highlander) tripled sales from a year earlier, likely because of the upgraded Toyota Camry Hybrid that debuted late last year. And Lexus hybrid sales were up 4.5 percent to 2,467 units. Overall, Toyota and Lexus hybrid sales doubled from a year earlier to 32,593 vehicles and, as usual, accounted for about two-thirds of the U.S. alt-fuel market.

Toyota and Lexus hybrids appeared to gain favor with U.S. consumers looking to save money amid gas prices that, until last month, had been rising all year. Regular gas prices jumped to about $3.90 a gallon in early April, up from about $3.35 at the beginning of the year, before tapering off to about $3.80 a gallon this week, according to AAA.

The effect of gas prices on sales of alt-fuel vehicles from other automakers ran the gamut. General Motors followed a monthly-record March for its Chevrolet Volt extended-range plug-in with 1,462 sales in April, almost triple year-earlier figures. Factoring in mild-hybrid models such as the Buick LaCrosse, Buick Regal and Chevy Malibu eAssist-powered vehicles, GM's alt-fuel sales jumped fivefold to 4,500 units.

Volkswagen, which hasn't jumped into the electric-drive market yet, boosted its clean diesel sales by 35 percent from a year earlier to 7,993 units. On a smaller scale, Porsche increased its hybrid sales by 22 percent from a year earlier to 130 vehicles, while the Mitsubishi i battery-electric moved 79 models, hitting its monthly U.S. record for the third straight month.

Not faring so well were Nissan, Honda and Ford. Nissan sold 370 Leafs in April, marking a 35-percent drop from a year earlier and a 36-percent decline from March.

Honda's Civic Hybrid sales jumped sixfold to 766 units, but that wasn't enough to offset a plunge in both CR-Z and Insight sales. Overall, Honda hybrid sales dropped 60 percent from a year earlier to 1,839 vehicles.

As for Ford, hybrid sales plunged 59 percent from a year earlier to 1,175 vehicles, as the automaker discontinued the Escape Hybrid and had sales declines for both the Fusion Hybrid and Lincoln MKZ Hybrid. That said, Ford is on the verge of introducing its Focus Electric to the U.S., so things could get real interesting right quick.