US monthly alt-fuel vehicle sales keep rising

So far, 2013 has been a Happy New Year indeed for green-vehicle advocates. January's US alt-fuel vehicle sales jumped about 57 percent from 2012 numbers on continued strong demand for the Toyota Prius and a surge in Ford's hybrids and plug-ins.

Americans bought 42,000 advanced powertrain vehicles in January, up from 26,000 vehicles in 2012.

With gas prices in January rising about 20 cents a gallon to their highest levels since October, Americans bought about 42,000 advanced powertrain vehicles in January, up from about 26,000 vehicles a year earlier. Plug-in vehicle sales rose even faster, more than doubling from January 2012 to 3,375 units, not including low-volume models such as the Tesla Model S electric vehicle and Fisker Karma extended-range plug-in.

Remarkably, these gains were achieved without the benefit of strong demand for either the Chevrolet Volt or Nissan Leaf, which both had sales surges towards the end of last year. Volt sales, while almost doubling from a year earlier to 1,140 units, fell sharply in January from the model's monthly average of almost 2,400 units during the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, in January, Nissan Leaf sales declined 3.8 percent from a year earlier to just 650 units.

Coming to the rescue was Ford.

Coming to the rescue was Ford, which said last week that it sold more than 5,000 alt-fuel vehicles in January. The automaker actually undersold its public estimate and boosted January sales almost fivefold from a year earlier to 5,949 units. The Ford Fusion Hybrid, which won Green Car Journal's Green Car of the Year award last November, has established itself as the second-best selling US hybrid to the Prius, selling 3,043 units. Ford also sold 2,387 C-Max Hybrids and 338 C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid vehicles.

Toyota continued to serve as the monthly barometer for alt-fuel vehicle sales.

Toyota continued to serve as the monthly barometer for alt-fuel vehicle sales, increasing its unit count by 53 percent to 24,232 vehicles last month. Prius sales rose 36 percent from a year earlier as an increase in standard hatchback sales more than offset a slight decline in demand for the Prius V wagon. Meanwhile, sales of the Camry Hybrid and hybrids within Toyota's Lexus luxury badge each jumped more than 70 percent from a year earlier.

General Motors also fared well by almost doubling its alt-fuel sales from a year earlier to 2,997 units, though much of that gain was attributable to the fact that Chevrolet Malibu eAssist sales didn't start in earnest until last February. Buick Regal eAssist sales almost tripled from a year earlier, while sales of the Buick LaCrosse eAssist were down 26 percent.

Even Mitsubishi got into the act, increasing sales of its i EV by more than sevenfold from a year earlier to a monthly record 257 units. Dealers appeared to be taking a more aggressive approach to moving the four-doors off of their lots, with one Illinois dealer running a promotion that offered to lease out the vehicles for as little as $69 a month.

Mitsubishi sold a record 257 i electric vehicles last month.

Volkswagen, Europe's biggest automaker, also appeared to benefit from rising US gas prices, increasing sales of its clean-diesel models in January by 15 percent from a year earlier to 5,513 units.

Pulling January numbers down were Honda, Audi and Porsche, though Honda appears on the verge of ending its streak of lower year-over-year hybrid sales with the recent introduction of the Accord PHEV. Overall, Honda sold 1,200 alt-fuel vehicles, down eight percent from January 2012. Meanwhile, Audi's diesel sales were down 60 percent from a year earlier to 281 vehicles and Porsche hybrid sales dropped 30 percent to 106 units.

With modest numbers from the Volt and Leaf, plug-in vehicle sales fell by about 50 percent between December 2012 and January 2013 to 3,375 units, but were still more than twice as high as 2012's January figures.