Detroit, Mich. — This December, while Washington politicians were demanding Detroit automakers make more hybrid vehicles in return for federal loans, sales of hybrid cars were in free-fall, according to industry figures released Monday.
While sales of vehicles overall dropped by 35 percent, hybrid sales dropped by 43 percent with sales of the most popular models dropping at double the rate of their gas-powered stablemates. Sales of the Toyota Camry Hybrid, for example, dropped by 62 percent, compared with a 35-percent decline for gas-powered Camrys; the Honda Civic Hybrid dropped 68 percent, versus 32 percent for the gas-powered version; and the Ford Escape Hybrid SUV plummeted 48 percent, while its gas counterpart fell by only 18 percent.
For the year, hybrid sales as a percentage of the market sunk below 2 percent with sales of just 17,000 units — a significant decline from a high of 3 percent in the summer of 2007. That’s a long way from Barack Obama’s campaign promise that “we will get one million 150-mile-per-gallon plug-in hybrids on our roads within six years.”
While a drop in gas prices to under $2 per gallon played a role, hybrid sticker shock also turned away customers in this recessionary environment. Hybrids on average cost some $5000 more than a comparable gas-powered car. It is also worth noting that Obama’s favored “plug-in hybrids” — the first of which is due to hit the market next year — are even more expensive than current gas-electric hybrids.
Even the iconic Toyota Prius hybrid was not immune from the bloodbath, with sales dropping by 45 percent. By comparison, price-sensitive shoppers bought the similarly-sized, $15,000 Toyota Corolla at twice the rate of the $22,000 Prius — despite the fact that the Corolla only gets 31 mpg versus the Prius’ 46 mpg.
In praising President Bush’s bailout of General Motors and Chrysler, President-Elect Barack Obama said that “the auto companies must not squander this chance” to begin “creating the fuel-efficient cars of tomorrow.”
Tomorrow, however, may need to come with billions in government dollars to buy cars no one wants.