A look back over the sales figures for the first quarter from a fuel-efficiency perspective provides a mixed view.
On the whole, fuel-efficient vehicles did not do as well as guzzlers. (I posted about the surge in SUV and small truck sales earlier.)
The two established hybrids vendors -- Toyota and Honda -- turned in very different result. The well-marketed and increasingly popular Prius increased its sales quarter to quarter by 62.4%. Honda sales, on the other hand, dropped.
On the other side of the scale, the Ford F-150 -- which is listed by the EPA as one of the ten least efficient vehicles -- again led the way.
I added the Hummer (which, since it is classified as a heavy-duty vehicle, requires no EPA mileage rating), and a few of the larger SUV clan for comparison. Cadillac sales were boosted by the new SRX, which ekes out an additional mile or two more per gallon than its blockier Escalade cousin.
Now for some overall comparisons and comments.
Total light duty vehicle (cars, SUVs, light trucks) sales in the first quarter rose 4% from 3,763,000 to 3,911,000. The industry as a whole is tracking for a 16-17M unit year.
Look at GMs (the largest automaker) figures.
Growth is not in the car sector -- its in light trucks. Similarly, the Ford F-150 is the highest selling unit Ford offers. Period.
Given these results, its almost amazing that any of the auto manufacturers are moving toward hybrid or diesel vehicles at all. Why bother?
Thats a facetious question, of course. The automakers know -- apparently better than the bulk of the buying public -- that they must develop and deploy green vehicles, whether from an environmental point of view, or an energy stability and price point of view. What weighs in the balance is the timing.
With results like these, and in this context, GM is behaving rationally to maintain its longer-term development plan for the Hy-wire hydrogen platform, with interim hybrid models targeted for 2007 or so. (GM to stick to Hybrid Gameplan) Why rush to spend even more on manufacturing cars that are essentially money losers?
Answer: To gain market share at a critical point in the market. Toyota is doing just that. Ford is going to be doing that with its more aggressive roll-out of hybrid models. Volkswagen is doing that with its new diesel models.
I'll continue to track sales as we move through the year. Lets see what effect gas prices and a wider choice of fuel-efficient models have on purchase patterns.