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Hybrids a rare bright spot for the auto industry

I was struck by the August U.S. car sales reports, and couldn’t help making a quick comparison to the same reports for hybrids.

The bottom line: overall car sales through the end of August are tanking in the U.S., down 11.2% from the first 8 months of 2007. Light trucks are the heaviest anchor here, down a phenomenal 22.1% from the same period last year. Hybrids, on the other hand, are a bright spot for the industry, actually notching a 0.4% increase over the first eight months of last year.

What’s causing this disparity, beyond the obvious gas savings in a hybrid over a truck or regular sedan? It’s not as though hybrids are being deeply discounted, the way other vehicle classes are (anybody want 40% off on a Dodge Ram pickup? Anyone?). In fact, with Prius inventories down, apparently because of battery scarcity as far back as May, and prices no doubt rising to compensate for the scarcity, it seems there’s more going on than meets the eye.

My guess? Though some hybrid buyers are surely buying to save gas and money, many more continue to buy to lower their carbon footprints, and perhaps to make a bit of a statement while they’re at it. I think it’s the same dynamic that leads so many people to buy carbon offsets, actually — though some TerraPass buyers ditch their cars altogether, for an awful lot of people it’s just not practical to do that in the short run, so they start looking for other ways to mitigate their impact.

However, since our handy customer survey tells me that almost 20% of our TerraPass customers own a hybrid, I thought I’d ask — what was your primary motivation for buying? And are you happy with the result? Let me know in the comments. And congratulations to all of you who have taken the plunge since we ran our survey back in early July!

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