U.S. sales of advanced-powertrain vehicles in July had their slowest year-over-year growth rate in three months, and below-peak gas prices may be putting domestic consumers in a little less of a frenzy when it comes to lowering their refueling bills. Additionally, electric-vehicle sales stalled, another small indication that the American public remains somewhat hesitant to plug in full time.
Automakers sold more than 39,000 hybrids and plug-in vehicles last month. That marked an impressive 66-percent growth rate from July 2011's total of more than 23,000 units, but which represented the slowest growth rate since April's 54 percent. Alt-fuel sales in June doubled figures from 2011.
The slowdown may reflect how the lack of a summer spike in gas prices is coaxing more people back into their old buying habits of less fuel-efficient vehicles. U.S. regular gas, while rising by roughly eight cents a gallon to about $3.53 a gallon last month, stayed well below their early April peak of about $3.90 a gallon, according to AAA.
Toyota maintained its lengthy lead as the biggest U.S. hybrid maker, more than doubling its alt-fuel sales from a year earlier to 23,044 units. Prius sales more than doubled to 16,643 vehicles, with the Prius C compact and Prius V wagon each accounting for about 3,000 units and the Prius Plug-in moving 688 vehicles. Toyota's other hybrid models boosted sales more than sixfold, likely on the popularity of the redesigned Camry Hybrid (Toyota didn't break out sales), while Lexus hybrid sales were up marginally.
Toyota maintained its lengthy lead as the biggest U.S. hybrid maker, more than doubling its alt-fuel sales from 2011.
General Motors also continued to see big year-over-year gains on both the popularity of its Chevrolet Volt extended-range plug-in and this year's introduction of its mild-hybrid Chevrolet Malibu, Buick Regal and Buick LaCrosse e-assist models. The Volt moved 1,849 units, marking the model's second-best monthly total (after March's 2,289) and representing more than a tenfold jump from a year earlier. The Volt also surpassed the 10,000-unit threshold for the year. Overall, GM's alt-fuel sales surged to 5,067 units from just 277 a year-earlier.
Ford also entered the world of year-over-year alt-fuel sales gains for a change, boosting its July sales by 13 percent to 1,791 units, primarily because Fusion Hybrid sales more than doubled from July 2011. Lincoln MKZ sales jumped 24 percent to 594 units, partially offsetting the effect of a 92 percent plunge in Escape Hybrid vehicles sold.
German automakers Volkswagen and Audi stayed just ahead of last year's diesel-sales pace, with each boosting year-over-year sales by 2.5 percent to 7,993 units and 643 units, respectively.
On the flip side, automakers looking to boost electric-vehicle sales were likely disappointed by July's results. Most notably, Nissan continued to experience lagging sales of its Leaf, whose sales of 395 units marked a 58 percent plunge from a year earlier. Year-to-date sales were down 26 percent to 3,543 units.
Most notably, Nissan continued to experience lagging sales of its Leaf, whose sales of 395 units marked a 58 percent plunge from a year earlier.
Additionally, Ford sold just 38 Focus Electric vehicles, down from 89 in June, while Mitsubishi's sales of its i EV matched its June total of 33 units after hitting a monthly high of 85 vehicles in May.
Honda also continued to disappoint with hybrid demand – its July sales of 1,227 units marked a 44 percent plunge from a year earlier. While Civic Hybrid sales jumped 51 percent from a year earlier to 471 units, CR-Z and Insight sales dropped 62 percent and 58 percent, respectively. Honda also recorded the first sales of its leasable-only Fit EV, with seven units moved last month.
Honda also recorded the first sales of its leasable-only Fit EV, with seven units moved last month.
Porsche also had lower sales of its hybrids, falling by 27 percent from a year earlier to just 95 units sold.
Through the first seven months of the year, U.S. alt-fuel sales were up 56 percent to more than 304,000 vehicles. Toyota has accounted for almost 193,000 of those, while Volkswagen has moved more than 50,000 diesels. GM sold almost 30,000 alt-fuel vehicles year-to-date, marking more than a fivefold jump from a year earlier.