Bad news for U.S. consumers turned into good news for sellers of advanced-powertrain vehicles like the Toyota Prius and the Chevrolet Volt, as higher gas prices drove a near doubling of August alt-fuel U.S. vehicle sales compared to numbers from 2011.
Domestic hybrid, electric vehicle and diesel-powered vehicle sales last month rose 96 percent from a year earlier to 49,450 units, the largest single-month total since automakers sold more than 57,000 alt-fuel vehicles in March. The year-over-year growth rate for alt-fuel vehicle sales had slowed to 66 percent in July.
Summer fuel price spikes appeared to be a primary factor in getting consumers to consider buying more fuel-efficient vehicles. Regular gas prices neared their April highs and rose to an average of roughly $3.83 a gallon on September 1, up from about $3.73 a month earlier and from $3.43 two months earlier, according to AAA. Gas prices were at about $3.60 a year ago.
Toyota, as usual, was the primary beneficiary, more than doubling its alt-fuel vehicle sales to 28,960 units. Prius sales were up 122 percent compared to August 2011, as the new Prius C compact, Prius V wagon and Prius Plug-in allowed the nameplate to put some distance from its year-earlier figures. Both the Prius C compact and Prius V wagon continued to sell in the 3,300 to 3,500 monthly unit range, selling 3,428 and 3,325 sales, respectively, while Toyota sold 1,047 Prius Plug-ins. Sales of non-Prius Toyota hybrids like the Camry and Highlander Hybrids surged almost eightfold to 4,289 units, while Lexus hybrid sales were up 9.9 percent to 3,560.
Toyota, as usual, was the primary beneficiary, more than doubling its alt-fuel vehicle sales to 28,960 units.
General Motors also appeared to benefit from the gas-price hike, selling a monthly-record number of Chevrolet Volt extended-range plug-ins and increasing sales of mild hybrid vehicles like the Chevrolet Malibu, Buick Regal and Buick LaCrosse. The U.S. automaker, which sold just 401 hybrids a year earlier, moved 6,831 advanced-powertrain units in August, putting GM firmly in the No. 2 position for alt-fuel vehicle sales. The Volt's sales of 2,831 units beat the prior monthly record of 2,289 units in March. Meanwhile, GM sold 3,769 units of its mild-hybrid sedans, while the automaker's hybrid SUV sales more than doubled from a year earlier to 231 units.
GM moved 6,831 advanced-powertrain units in August, settling firmly in the No. 2 position for alt-fuel vehicle sales.
U.S. diesel sales for Volkswagen also appeared to be bolstered by higher gas prices, as Europe's biggest automaker sold 8,776 diesels stateside, up 43 percent from 2011. That more than offset the impact of Audi, whose diesel sales fell 31 percent from a year earlier to just 584 vehicles.
And even Ford, whose year-to-date hybrid sales had substantially lagged 2011 totals, got in on the act. The automaker boosted alt-fuel vehicle sales by 68 percent from a year earlier to 2,137 units, with Ford Fusion Hybrid boosting sales almost fivefold and the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid doubling August 2011 sales figures. Ford also sold 34 Focus Electric vehicles last month.
Ford also sold 34 Focus Electric vehicles last month.
Most notably missing out on the party was Nissan, whose sales of the battery-electric Leaf were cut in half from a year earlier to 685 units. Additionally, Mitsubishi, which sold a monthly high 85 units of its all-electric i model, continues to lag far behind that clip, moving 37 units last month.
Honda also continued to lose ground and saw its alt-fuel vehicle sales drop 27 percent from a year earlier to 1,322 units. While Civic Hybrid sales jumped more than fivefold, slumping demand for the CR-Z and Insight brought the overall numbers down. Honda, which recently began leasing a battery-electric version of the Fit on the West Coast, had record "sales" of 9 units last month.
Finally, Porsche hybrid sales in August fell 8.6 percent from a year earlier to 117 units.
Year-to-date, alt-fuel sales have climbed 63 percent from 2011 to more than 353,000 units, with Toyota alone representing about two-thirds of that total.