Just three months ago, hybrids and electric vehicles were on the way out, everybody said. As recently as January came a wave of stories—like this one from the Boston Globe—on why hybrid cars aren’t selling, and how manufacturers aren’t playing with battery packs anymore. There were way more efficient gasoline cars that were cheaper to run, cheaper to maintain, and could actually drive somewhere worth driving to. Diesels are on the wave in, daddy-o, and these electric jalopies have run out of juice!
Then, gasoline hit $4 per gallon. And as predictable as the sunrise, hybrid and electric vehicle sales are up again. As Americans rely on their knee-jerk reactions to combat the rise of fuel costs, they’re buying the Toyota Prius and GM’s eAssist cars at a prodigious rate. Sales of electric-tinged cars rose 44 percent last quarter, compared to 2011′s, and reached 113,457 cars. March’s sales were double that of January’s, which was the time everybody was making greatly exaggerated predictions of the electric car’s demise.
Breaking down that six-figure statistic, hybrid cars made up 106,207 of those sales, while electric cars and plug-in hybrids made up the remaining 7,250. Still, it’s a pretty big number for the burgeoning purely-electric set: the Chevrolet Volt hit its highest figure in March at 2,289 units, doubling the month before, while the Nissan Leaf quadrupled its 2011 first quarter sales with a total of 1,733 sold. As always, the Prius leads, especially with two new vehicles in Toyota’s hybrid lineup that are aggressively priced and well-positioned in the market.
Curiously enough, during the last two gasoline surges in 2008 and 2011, sales of hybrids and EVs barely rose above 2.2 percent of market share. That first year, 2008, Toyota Prius sales actually dropped: by about 30,000 units compared to 2007′s sales. In 2011, sales of the Prius also fell short compared to the year before: 136,463 cars sold, compared to 2010′s stronger 140,928.
So why the discrepancy? If you thought the naysayers of electric vehicles are strong today, they’re nothing compared to the hype, fearmongering, and shameless lies spread around in those heady days of when Britney Spears still had a career. Today, in the 12th year of this new millennium, we’ve had time to become acclimated to hybrids and electric vehicles being more than just flash-in-pan wizardy, and the diversity of hybrid cars have made them more practical and accessible. The Prius lineup, just one car in 2008, has expanded into four vehicles: the Prius c compact, the Prius v wagon, the original flavor Prius, and a plug-in hybrid. Nissan has been blowing its budget on advertising the Leaf, and Chevrolet is touting its Volt as saving a “crapload” on gas. If families considered buying a hybrid or electric car even less than a year ago, the familiarity and ready availability of hybrids, coupled with this recent first-quarter surge in gasoline prices, may have just been the tipping points for their new car.
But don’t worry, truckbuilders. They’ll be back. As soon as gasoline falls before $3.50, or some other socially accepted figure of frugality, the roads will once again be populated by King Ranch and Harley-Davidson Ford F-150s, hulking Cadillac Escalades, and Toyota Sequoias as tall as actual sequoias.
Source: Automotive News