February monthly alt-fuel sales growth slows

Americans may have finally gotten a taste of Toyota Prius overkill, hinted at by last month's rare decline in year-over-year sales for the world's most popular hybrid. The Prius' decline caused overall advanced powertrain vehicle sales numbers in February to level off considerably relative to previous months.

As a result, advanced powertrain sales increased just 15 percent from a year earlier, falling well short of January's year-over-year growth rate of 57 percent and December's 44 percent growth rate.

The primary culprit was the Prius, which usually accounts for about half of US alt-fuel sales.

The primary culprit was the Prius, which usually accounts for about half of US alt-fuel sales. While Prius C compact and Prius Plug-in sales surged from February 2012, just after the two variants were introduced, the standard Prius Liftback sales dropped 31 percent from last year, while Prius V wagon sales plunged 38 percent. Over all, Americans bought 17,812 Prius units, down 14 percent from a year earlier. And while the Japanese automaker moved a monthly record 1,361 Avalon Hybrids, increased Camry Hybrid sales by 11 percent and Lexus hybrid sales by 20 percent, Toyota Motor Co. alt-fuel sales inched down 1.7 percent from 2012, to 26,966 vehicles.

Also trailing its own 2012 sales numbers was fellow Japanese automaker Honda, which is hoping the upcoming launch of the Accord Hybrid helps the company boost hybrid demand. In the meantime, Honda's February alt-fuel sales declined 30 percent from a year earlier to 1,388 vehicles, with both the Civic Hybrid and Insight showing plunges of more than 40 percent from February 2012.

General Motors also fared well last month, with the Chevrolet Volt increasing sales 59 percent.

More than offsetting that decline was Ford, which almost quadrupled year-earlier advanced-powertrain vehicle sales to 7,443 units. The Ford Fusion Hybrid solidified its place as the country's second-best selling hybrid with 3,806 units sold, while the C-Max Hybrid moved 2,849 vehicles. February's C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid sales were little changed from January at 334 units. Ford also sold 158 Focus Electric vehicles and moved 119 Fusion Energi plug-in hybrids during that model's first month of sales.

General Motors also fared well last month. The company's Chevrolet Volt extended-range plug-in increased sales 59 percent from a year earlier to 1,626 vehicles. With sales of the Buick Regal and Chevrolet Malibu eAssist mild hybrids surging, GM boosted its overall alt-fuel sales by 37 percent from last year to 4,073 vehicles.

Meanwhile, February's Nissan Leaf battery-electric sales were about even with January's and rose 37 percent from a year earlier to 653 vehicles. The automaker is currently shifting US Leaf production to its Tennessee plant. And here's a number that caught us a bit by surprise: Mitsubishi set a monthly sales record for its i EV for the second consecutive month by selling 337 vehicles. Volkswagen and Audi clean diesel sales were up 8.3 percent and 7.9 percent from a year earlier, respectively. And Porsche hybrid sales dropped 78 percent from a year earlier to a minuscule 37 units.