In has been axiomatic that the growth in hybrid-vehicle sales, now a smidgen of the market, would be a slow curve upward. That may be too conservative an estimate. But the increases are tracking the growing number of hybrid and electric vehicles in the U.S. market, including new Toyota Prius variants, and soon hybrid versions of Ford Fusion, and Honda Accord, plus the Ford Fusion Energi plug-in and the Honda Accord Plug-in.
Chicago-based market research firm Mintel says hybrid sales are up 73% this year, with 440,000 hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and electrics sold. That would make this category of vehicles the fastest-growing in the U.S. this year. Within the segment, the fastest-growing category are compact hybrids, comprising 58.9% of the category total. And The Prius accounts for over 85% of compact hybrid sales, partly because of recovery from the tsunami last year, which affected production of Prius components, and because of the expansion of the lineup to include the v and c to 3.3% of total vehicles sold in the U.S. by 2013.
Also, sales of plug-in and electric models have nearly quadrupled from three last year to 11 now in showrooms. Mintel also points out that the University of Michigan's Consumer Sentiment Study says opinion of hybrids, electric and plug-ins is at an all-time high.
Jesse Toprak, head of auto market analysis at TrueCar.com, tells Marketing Daily that greater intention to buy hybrid vehicles and electrics is a function of growing appeal to the masses, and shrinking price premium over the non-hybrid models. "If you look at vehicles like the Camry hybrid, the sticker price is actually the same as the non-hybrid," he says. "Manufacturers have been able to lower and eliminate that extra price."
Even relatively expensive vehicles like Chevy Volt are a bargain in certain markets. "When you look at the math, if you live in L.A., and you commute less than 20 miles one way, I don't understand why you wouldn't buy. You can lease for under $300 a month. If I spend $350 a month on gas, I would have essentially a free car."
Said Colin Bird, automotive analyst at Mintel: “New midsize hybrid models, such as the Toyota Prius v and Chevrolet Malibu Eco, have proven popular with consumers -- in particular families, who want to buy green without sacrificing other features that fit their lifestyles." He said that 34% of younger consumers ages 25-34 think that it is easy to make back the extra money spent on a hybrid car in savings at the pump.
Mintel notes that it's not a bad thing to put these vehicles into rental fleets because it gives people a chance to test them out. Hertz, for instance, offers the Leaf, and Chevy Volt in specific markets. And Avis is offering the Volt at New York's LaGuardia Airport.