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Peak hybrid?

A couple of months ago I wrote that hybrid car sales were holding up relatively well in the face of the economic downturn. My theory was that though saving money on gas was great, it couldn’t account for the whole disparity in sales decline — there had to be a core of hybrid buyers whose primary motivation continued to be lowering their carbon footprints.

However, the latest data are challenging that theory. It turns out that November 2008 sales for hybrids were down over 50% from November of 2007, compared to an overall light duty sales decline of 36.7% (from Green Car Congress). What’s going on?

The most obvious explanation is that gas prices have plummeted below $2.00 per gallon, eliminating a huge portion of the argument that paying a premium for a hybrid car now will pay back in gas money savings over the next few years. I hate to think that’s what is going on (are we that short-sighted?) but a quick glance makes that case.

However, the folks at Hybrid Car Review also made the point that November 2007 sales for the Toyota Prius were very high, making it a tough year over year comparison. I looked at this from a slightly different angle — I think this chart from Green Car Congress makes the case for hybrids overall:

What this shows is that hybrids represented almost 3% of US new vehicle sales in November 2007, way up from the sub-2% figures seen in September and October last year, and the roughly 2.2% of December 2007. This past month, in November 2008, they clocked in at 2.2% of all sales, way down from November 2007, as noted – but the chart makes clear that since July of this year hybrids have consistently represented a higher percentage of new vehicle sales than they did in 2007. From that point of view November looks like the exception, not the rule.
so here’s my prediction (you can check back and see whether I’m right in January): I predict that hybrids will be back on trend in December 2008, selling at or above the 2.2% share they notched in December 2007. One data point does not make a trend, as they say.

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