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Hybrids Up 81% in 2004; California Leads Nation with 30%

Here at GCC, we track hybrid sales by the sales figures released by the manufacturers.  (Earlier post.)

Another view of the market comes from looking at the registrations of new vehicles.

Nationwide registrations for new hybrid vehicles jumped 81% to 83,153 in 2004 compared to the prior year, according to R. L. Polk & Co.

The Toyota Prius recorded 53,761 new hybrid vehicle registrations in 2004, a 33 percent increase over 2003 and commands  64% of the hybrid market. The Honda Civic Hybrid follows with 25,586 registrations and 31% percent market share.

Since the introduction of hybrid vehicles in 2000, the market has grown by more than 960 percent.

According to the data, California strongly outpaces all other states in new hybrid vehicle registrations. In 2004 there were 25,021 new hybrid vehicle registrations in California, about 4.5 times that of second place Virginia with 5,613. California hybrids accounted for 30% of all new hybrid registrations in the US.

Of that California number, Los Angeles and San Francisco (the number one and two cities respectively) represent 18,540 registrations—almost 75% of the California total and 22% of the national total.

Top 5 in New Hybrid Registrations, 2004
Source:  R. L. Polk & Co.
1 California 25,021 Los Angeles 10,399
2 Virginia 5,613 San Francisco 8,051
3 Washington 3,441 Washington DC 6,473
4 Florida 3,272 New York 3,779
5 Maryland 3,238 Seattle 2,857

(A tip of the hat to Car Buyer’s Notebook.)


Frank Giovinazzi

Here's what's missing from the Polk data -- look at the data, when you see VA, MD and DC, consider they are essentially one metropolitan area, though 3 different states. That's over 12,000 hybrids.

To date, the reason hybrid sales are so high here is due to the HOV lane exemption for hybrids, NOT environmental sensibility. We have the worst traffic in the country now, and people have been buying them to beat the system.

It will be interesting to see what happens when the exemption is phased out -- BUT, with higher gas prices and increasing customer awareness , the dropoff may be less than I expect.

Gregg Schoen

Most states don't offer an exemption, and it's clear the exmeption isn't going to last as hybrid numbers grow. Only the naive would buy thinking they could use a HOV lane for the life of the car.

California didn't have the HOV exemption, but the highest gas prices no doubt spurred sales there. CA & VA received more cars when they were scarce, other areas had high demand but no supply. Now CA & VA are two of the only states with significant Prius inventories as supply has increased.


Frank raises a good point -- the HOV exemption has prompted lots of hybrid purchases.

Still, it'll be a number of years before the (hybrids + carpoolers) saturate the HOV lanes. After all, even if 50,000 hybrids are purchased each year in the DC metro area, it's still only a few percent of the total number of cars in the metro area*. So, the HOV-hybrid incentive system seems to be working, and will continue to do so for a number of years in the future methinks -- well, until people figure out that a weak hybrid SUV getting 28 mpg doesn't "deserve" the HOV lane when compared to gasoline powered cars getting in the mid 30s. We can thank Ford (and eventually, GM) for that.

Gregg pointed out the supply chain bottlenecks throughout the USA that might have skewed early data as well. If his theory is right, look for other states with sprawl and long commutes to shoot up the list, such as IL, GA, and TX, to name a few.

Finally, I'd like to point out that there just might be a correlation between gas prices (or, alternatively and not equivalently, the change in gas prices) and the sales of hybrids. This hasn't been statistically shown yet, and I suspect that it'll take more data to show it more conclusively.

* How many? I've no idea. I'd feel confident in saying that there are millions of cars in the DC metro area.


Although it's called the HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lane, motorcycles are allowed with only 1 occupant. This would suggest we are also interested in reducing pollution which hybrids are accomplishing. However, we should be offering HOV benefits to vehicles (regardless of powertrain) that achieve a minimum fuel efficiency. I agree with stomv in that SUV hybrids don't deserve special treatment when smaller gas-only passenger cars outperform them in efficiency.

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