Last month, sales of advanced-powertrain vehicles illustrated what appears to be a zero-sum gain situation: newer plug-in models and record sales of the Nissan Leaf battery electric were offset by a drop in demand for variants of the Toyota Prius hybrid, leaving overall green car sales virtually unchanged from March 2012.
For the automakers that regularly report such numbers (c'mon, Tesla), sales of hybrids, plug-ins and diesels in March 2013 actually fell 0.3 percent from a year earlier, down to 57,447 units. Even though sales of the Tesla Model S electric vehicle are not disclosed monthly, adding those in pushes alt-fuel sales ahead of year-earlier figures. Tesla reached its production capacity of about 400 vehicles a week earlier this year and now claims to be delivering 500 units a week. The numbers suggest that the popularity of some of the tried-and-true hybrids from automakers like Toyota and Honda may have peaked, and that any growth will be cannibalized from new hybrid models and plug-ins.
Overall, green car sales in March 2013 were virtually unchanged from 2012.
Specifically, with US gas prices dipping slightly last month, Prius demand fell, with sales of the standard liftback and the Prius V wagon plunging 23 percent and 30 percent from a year earlier, respectively. Overall, Prius sales dropped 23 percent compared to 22,140, while sales of the Camry and Highlander Hybrids fell 17 percent and 21 percent, respectively. While Toyota benefited from a slight increase in Lexus hybrid sales and the recent introduction of the Toyota Avalon Hybrid, overall sales fell 15 percent to 32,444 vehicles.
General Motors also suffered, largely because a strong March 2012 month for the Chevrolet Volt extended-range plug-in meant a weak month, by comparison, in 2013, as sales dropped 35 percent to 1,478 units. In fact, save for the Buick Regal eAssist mild hybrid, all GM advanced powertrain vehicle sales declined in March, with GM totaling 4,068 alt-fuel units, down 23 percent from a year earlier.
Meanwhile, Honda continued its downward trend, as the effect of newer, lower volume models like the Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrid, Acura ILX Hybrid and Honda Fit EV was more than offset by sales declines of the Honda Civic Hybrid, CR-Z and Insight. Overall, Honda advanced-powertrain sales dropped 32 percent to 1,671 units in March.
Meanwhile, Honda continued its downward trend.
Also likely affected by falling gas prices was demand for advanced-powertrain vehicles from German automakers like Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche. VW's diesel sales were little changed from a year earlier at 8,521 vehicles, but Audi diesel sales plunged 49 percent to 312 units; and Porsche hybrid sales declined 66 percent – to just 57 units.
Additionally, the Mitsubishi i electric moved 31 units, down 45 percent from March 2012.
Saving last month from a relative washout were Ford and Nissan. Ford's C-Max Hybrid and C-Max Energi Plug-In Hybrid, which weren't available a year ago, moved 3,275 and 494 units, respectively, while the re-launched Fusion Hybrid more than tripled year-earlier sales to 3,417 vehicles. Additionally, the Fusion Energi Plug-in Hybrid totaled 295 sales units, and the Focus Electric moved a monthly record 180 units. Ford ,as a whole, more than quadrupled its advanced-powertrain sales from March 2012 to 8,107 vehicles.
Saving last month from a relative washout were Ford and Nissan.
Finally, Nissan benefitted from its recent price drop for the 2013 Leaf as well as the production of the vehicle going into full swing at the company's Tennessee plant, almost quadrupling year-earlier sales numbers to a monthly record 2,236 units. That jump helped push March's US plug-in sales up 49 percent from a year earlier to 5,682 units. Not including Tesla, of course.
Through the first quarter of the year, advanced-powertrain sales are up 17 percent from a year earlier to about 147,000 units, while plug-in sales have just about doubled to roughly 13,000 vehicles.