Planet Gore

Is global warming driving auto sales?

Like hurricane season predictions, the MSM now interprets monthly car sales figures with an eye towards global warming. As Toyota and Honda continue to carve into Detroit’s market share, the knee-jerk Green line is that Big Three sales are down because Americans are abandoning Detroit’s gas-guzzling trucks and opting for Japanese hybrids.


Well, not exactly.


Consider Toyota. Its U.S. numbers surged last month in part because sales of its unique Toyota Prius hybrid more than double from a year ago. But the company’s other hybrids – the Toyota Highlander and Lexus RX-400 – saw sales slide by 16 and 40 percent respectively.


Ditto Honda’s hybrid sales. Its compact Insight (introduced in 1999, a year before the Prius) has been discontinued due to lack of demand, while sales of the hybrid version of its popular Accord are off a whopping 33 percent.


The Prius is an undeniable hit (selling over 100,000 units in 2006), but industry analysts say there is another factor in its March sales spike: The federal tax break on the Prius of $1,575 dropped 50 percent to $787.50 on April 1 under federal rules. Furthermore, the tax break only applies to the first 60,000 of any one hybrid model’s sales. That, combined with generous sales incentives, may mean Prius hybrid sales will fall to earth with other hybrids as the year winds down.


Meanwhile, Toyota truck sales of its huge new Tundra and Tacoma trucks are up by double digits, while GM’s biggest truck – the mammoth, 14-mpg Suburban – saw sales race ahead 31 percent last month!


Look across all vehicles and the trend in today’s auto market is not Al Gore-induced eco-awareness as many MSM pundits would have you believe. What continues to drive the American consumer is quality. And Toyota does that consistently better – big or small, model for model – than anyone out there.

Henry Payne — Henry Payne is the auto critic for the Detroit News.

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