green vehicle sales chart

Any hypermiler will tell you that a fierce tailwind will do wonders for fuel economy. The same could probably apply for U.S. sales of advanced-powertrain vehicles.

Continuing high gas prices, a broadening array of hybrid and electric-drive vehicles and figures from a year earlier that were constrained by supply issues stemming from the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan pushed May U.S. alt-fuel vehicle sales far above numbers from last year, though they were slightly lower than April sales.

Automakers sold almost 46,000 advanced-powertrain vehicles last month, up about 83 percent from May 2011 but down from about 49,000 units in April.

Automakers sold almost 46,000 advanced-powertrain vehicles last month, up about 83 percent from May 2011 but down from about 49,000 units in April (note: there were 26 selling days in May 2012 versus 24 selling days in May 2011). While usual suspect Toyota Prius led the charge, sales of the Chevrolet Volt extended-range plug-in were also strong, General Motors' mild hybrid models such as the Buick LaCrosse eAssist boosted demand and the Mitsubishi i battery-electric set a monthly record. Ford also finally reported sales of its Focus Electric, which actually hit the market last December. Such models more than offset less-than-stellar sales of the Nissan Leaf and a continuing plunge in demand in Ford and Honda hybrids.

The Prius, whose sales were hit hard last year by the Japan disaster, tripled its year-earlier sales to 21,477 units, with the Prius C compact and Prius V wagon accounting for about 3,600 units each. The Prius Plug-In moved 1,086 units, which was a 34 percent drop from April but still made the model the best second-best plug-in in the U.S. Toyota's non-Prius hybrids like the Camry and Highlander more than tripled their year-earlier sales, while Lexus hybrid sales were up 86 percent from May 2011. Overall, Toyota and Lexus moved a combined 29,069 hybrids, accounting for 63 percent of U.S. alt-fuel sales.

GM is already about 600 units short of matching Chevy Volt sales for all of last year.

Also coming up big was GM, who saw the Chevy Volt more than triple sales from a year earlier to 1,680 units and is already about 600 units short of matching its sales for all of last year. GM's eAssist mild-hybrid models like the Buick LaCrosse, Buick Regal and Chevy Malibu moved about 3,000 vehicles. In all, GM sold 4,919 hybrids and plug-ins, easily making it the No. 2 advanced-powertrain vehicle seller, after Toyota.

Meanwhile, Mitsibushi sold a record 85 i battery-electrics, while Volkswagen's sales of 7,847 clean-diesel vehicles marked a 21 percent jump from a year earlier and more than offset the performance of its Audi division, whose sales of 558 diesels accounted for a 21 percent drop compared to May 2011.

Falling behind Toyota and GM were Nissan, Ford and Honda. Nissan moved 510 Leafs, and continues to claim this performance – sales were down 55 percent from a year earlier – is due to a lack of supply stemming from the automaker's transition to moving Leaf production to Tennessee. Ford did sell six Focus Electrics in May and finally revealed that it's sold 16 of the battery-electrics since last December. On the gas-powered side of the ledger, the Ford Escape Hybrid and Ford Fusion Hybrid sales dropped 82 percent and 46 percent from a year earlier, while Lincoln MKZ Hybrid sales were down 14 percent. Overall, Ford and Lincoln hybrid sales dropped 53 percent to 1,375 vehicles.

Finally, Honda matched Ford with its own 53 percent drop from a year earlier to 1,516 hybrid sales. The Honda Civic Hybrid showed year-over-year gains for the fourth straight month, more than doubling May sales from a year earlier to 708 units. But that advance was more than offset by CR-Z and Insight sales, which fell 81 percent and 64 percent from a year earlier, respectively.