Rising gas prices may not have lifted all alt-fuel vehicles last month, but they did a pretty good job for some of the higher profile models.

Overall, U.S. March sales of hybrids, extended-range plug-in hybrids, battery-electrics and diesels jumped about 40 percent from a year earlier as both the Toyota Prius hybrid and Chevrolet Volt extended-range plug-in set all-time monthly sales records. One possibility for the surge is that U.S. customers, beaten down by rising gas prices last year, are now willing to spend the extra money for more fuel-efficient, advanced-powertrain vehicles as gas prices continue to rise.

The sales surge was led, of course, by the Prius.

The sales surge was led, of course, by the Prius, which moved 28,711 vehicles, up 54 percent from a year earlier. Toyota, in fact, set an all-time U.S. monthly sales record for the Prius, which was introduced here in 2000. Fueling the increase was a combination of a broader range of models – the Prius C compact and Prius V wagon both debuted in the U.S. this year – and 2011 sales figures that were held down by supply constraints stemming from the earthquake and ensuing tsunami that struck Japan last March.

Meanwhile, sales of Toyota's non-Prius vehicles, including the Camry and Highlander, jumped 61 percent from a year earlier to 6,011 vehicles. And, while Toyota didn't break out Camry Hybrid sales, the Camry's overall sales jumped 35 percent from a year earlier to a March-record 42,567 vehicles, hinting that the updated Camry Hybrid that was introduced late last year has been well-received. Sales of hybrids under Toyota's Lexus luxury badge were up 5.8 percent.

As for the Volt, General Motors sold 2,289 units last month, more than triple the Volt's year-earlier sales and beating previous monthly record from December 2011 of 1,529 Volts. With such record sales, GM may shorten the five-week Volt shutdown that started March 19 by a week, and the automaker made good on former GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz's prediction last month that March would mark record sales for the model. In fact, when factoring in the estimated 2,500 Buick LaCrosses, Buick Regals and Chevrolet Malibus sold with the eAssist mild hybrid powertrains, GM sold almost 4,800 hybrids and plug-in hybrids in March. That's more than the hybrids sold by Ford and Honda combined.

While Nissan Leaf battery-electric vehicle sales weren't as gaudy, they still almost doubled from a year earlier to 579 units.

While Nissan Leaf battery-electric vehicle sales weren't as gaudy, they still almost doubled from a year earlier to 579 units, and were also up from 478 Leafs in February. Additionally, in the smaller victories department, Mitsubishi sold 52 of its i battery-electric vehicles, beating the previous monthly record in February of 44 vehicles, while sales of Porsche's Cayenne and Panamera Hybrids jumped a combined 46 percent from a year earlier to 167 vehicles.

Since late last year, the average price of regular gas has jumped almost another 60 cents a gallon and is approaching the $4 mark, according to AAA. Determining how much such gas prices drove up alt-fuel vehicle sales is tough to determine because makers of smaller-production hybrids such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz don't break out hybrid numbers, and Audi didn't break out diesel sales a year ago.

U.S. sales of hybrids, battery-electrics and diesels increased about 38 percent to more than 57,000 vehicles in March.

Still, with most of the alt-fuel market accounted for, U.S. sales of hybrids, battery-electrics and diesels increased about 38 percent to more than 57,000 vehicles in March, with the Prius, as usual, accounting for about half the market. Additionally, Volkswagen's diesel sales appeared to spike from the rising gas prices, jumping 44 percent from a year earlier to 8,452 units.

Toyota, GM, Nissan and VW's alt-fuel sales more than offset continually lagging hybrid sales from Ford and Honda. Ford sold 1,797 hybrids, down 45 percent from a year earlier, and Ford Fusion Hybrid sales dropped 31 percent from a year earlier. Ford Escape Hybrid sales plunged 86 percent.

Honda, who, like Toyota, suffered from supply constraints last year, fared even worse than Ford. Honda's hybrid sales were cut in half from March 2011. While Civic Hybrid sales actually doubled from a year earlier, CR-Z sales dropped 68 percent and sales of the Insight, which was designed to challenge the Prius for hybrid supremacy, plunged 63 percent. Overall, Honda sold 2,475 hybrids, down from 4,908 a year earlier.

See the details in our chart after the jump.



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  • 33 Comments
      marcopolo
      • 2 Years Ago
      @ Danny King, "GAUDY" ! defined by the Greater Oxford Dictionary, 'Gaudy', "showy in a tasteless or vulgar way." Could you explain why sales of GM products, including the Volt, is somehow ""showy in a tasteless or vulgar way." but sales of Nissan's Leaf is , (antonym) 'conservative, meritorious, quiet, tasteful, refined ."? Or is this just another subtle instance of ABG, GM Volt bashing ?
      Anne
      • 2 Years Ago
      I think it's interesting that diesel in the USA is considered an 'alt-fuel'.
      marcopolo
      • 2 Years Ago
      Curious fact about the loudest and most ferocious purist EV advocates, who hatred of oil companies and moral self-righteousness is the subject of passionate rants, when it comes to actually buying an EV, there's aways an excuse! "It cost's to much" It's not prefect" (followed by an unrealistic rant of how they could make a better EV), "it's doesn't suit my budget", " I'm not helping some Corporation make profits" " I'll wait until mass sales bring the price down" " it wouldn't save me enough fuel" etc etc, Meanwhile, those who these ardent fanatics despise, are actually buying Volt's, Leaf's and other EV's. So I give a cheer to each, and every, consumer who elected to pay the price of their convictions, and elected to pay the extra for EV technology.
        brotherkenny4
        • 2 Years Ago
        @marcopolo
        Good for you. Spend like a true American, beyond your means and until you are a debt slave.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Everyone is effected from high gas prices. The way I see it is that we need to drill, build the pipe line, provide sound energy policies, balance the budget, stop burning our food source for fuel (corn), strengthen the dollar, and lying to the American People. There is still a lot more wrong with us but I think this would be a good starting point in turning this country around. Here are 35 of the best gas saving tips on the net. Found out the #1 tip every driver should have to save gas and don't. Plus they get upset when it happens during high prices. I'll show you the easy way to save gas using a tool from Amazon that makes us a better driver. http://geetis.com/best-tips/
        Grendal
        • 2 Years Ago
        I went to the web site and there are some decent tips there for getting the most out of an ICE car. There is a lot of mis-information mixed into the list. The list seems generated by someone who has their heart in the right place but lacks a lot of real information and has not thought through the long term impact of the "tips". As an example, one of the tips recommends that dropping the tailgate on a pickup improves your mileage. This was tested on Mythbusters and they found that the best mileage enhancer for a pickup was a tailgate net and dropping the tailgate actually lowers your mileage. Another recommends buying a diesel over a hybrid without dicussing the pros and cons of each. It also doesn't dicuss EV's and alt-fuel advantages and disadvantages.
      DaveMart
      • 2 Years Ago
      Disappointment at Leaf monthly sales should be tempered by comparing them with last year: Previous year thru March: 471 Current year thru March: 2,687 http://theeestory.ning.com/forum/topics/nissan-leaf-gm-volt-sales-up-305-over-2011 Since they sold 10,000 in the US last year the current year's target of 20,000 may be more realisable than many currently think. The Volt is of course selling still more in the US: Previous year thru March: 1,536 Current year thru March: 5,444
        paulwesterberg
        • 2 Years Ago
        @DaveMart
        Sales might increase now that they have expanded the number of dealers that are allowed to sell the vehicle.
        DaveMart
        • 2 Years Ago
        @DaveMart
        Sas: They started the figures in my link from the start of sales of the Leaf in December, so the full figures are: Dec 2010: 19 Dec 2011: 954 Jan 2011: 87 Jan 2012: 676 Feb 2011: 67 Feb 2012: 478 Mar 2011: 298 Mar 2012: 579 A bit of a peculiar start date, I agree. From what Ghosn has said they are basically going to blitz it in the last few months of the year, and sell perhaps 4,000 a month then. He obviously thinks that the only constraint he has is supply, and is not prepared to divert more to the States earlier as they want to be putting in cheaper US made batteries. We will see if he is right from around September.
          Sasparilla Fizz
          • 2 Years Ago
          @DaveMart
          I hope Ghosn is right - that's a really aggressive sales pace he'll need to do though, my gosh. I'm trying to guess how much off the price of the car they'd have to lop off to achieve that. What do you think would be needed to do that, $5k off?
          DaveMart
          • 2 Years Ago
          @DaveMart
          Sas: Ghosn has said that they don't plan major price decreases. He is obviously of the opinion that they can do it without. I think that eventually they intend to get the price to around the level of when they first premiered it, before the yen rise forced it up by about $3k. I don't know what that means in dollar terms, as obviously prices have moved on since then, but I reckon that they plan a maximum of $3k reduction, and not until after their US plant fully opens then. Whether they will be able to generate the sales they plan at that price is what we will have to see. Rising petrol prices may give them a boost, although they should be having their seasonal fall by the autumn.
        Sasparilla Fizz
        • 2 Years Ago
        @DaveMart
        Dave I think you might be off by about 1000 on calendar 2012 US Leaf sales - I believe it should be 1733 at this point. It was 676 in January, 478 in March and 579 in March. Here's the January and February 2012 numbers for the Leaf: http://www.plugincars.com/chevy-volt-sales-sizzle-nissan-leaf-cools-february-2012-113480.html I hope Nissan can make 20,000 US sales this year, but it would require a more than 2,000 a month average from here on out - which seems like a really tall order. With Ghosn saying not to expect a significant uptick in US Leaf sales till September its going to be tough making that (although he seems to think its still reasonable). Best of luck to them though.
      mustsvt
      • 2 Years Ago
      GMs E e assist units shouldn't count as hybrids, even GM doesn't market them that way. The current Ford Escape is being replaced with the all new model so expect '12 MY Hybrid sales to race towards 0. For the vast majority of people, the ICE is still the best way to go financially as every new model brings out enhanced MPG numbers, many only achieved with hybrids just a few short years ago.
      Grendal
      • 2 Years Ago
      That's what you got out of what Marco wrote?
      EZEE
      • 2 Years Ago
      The Prius C will be a smash hit (never doubt me) and the Volt should continue to increase in sales. The Leaf will have sales hampered by the range of the vehicle. It is good for a select group of people, whereas the Volt has the best balance, with no range anxiety. It would be nice to see all of the cars the Volt is outselling. On the top 10 worst selling cars (nothing exotic or ultra high priced) the volt would not be in this top 10 - at current sales. Pretty nifty.
        Spec
        • 2 Years Ago
        @EZEE
        I think the Leaf is hampered more by its $35.2K price tag than its 73 mile EPA rated range. It makes a good commuter car for a 2 (or more) car family. But hopefully opening the Smyrna, TN plant will bring the price of the Leaf down.
          EZEE
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Spec
          @grendal. I would say no, but he usually buys above what he can afford. His last purchase was a Trailblazer (!) that cost around $32k. Seeing ad the volt is in the same range, with incentives, he might. I will have to lean on him a bit. Now me....cheap bastard that I am, would get the Prius C.
          EZEE
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Spec
          Price is cetainly a factor, but for my use, a Lear would require me to have a second car. A volt, no. I was talking about the two of them to a friend of mine yesterday. To and from work is 15 miles round trip, and he lives out in the sticks, so 'town' is about 5 miles away. Everything is works fine for a leaf, except he is divorced and the ex and kids live 125 miles away. Volt. I know that everyone likes to say that 90% of trips are less than 40 miles, or whatever the statistic is, but that last 20% is where the devil is.
          Grendal
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Spec
          I think it's both. The range is just a little low for the US. 100 real world miles for $25K (final price) will be the sweet spot for the Leaf. I also think having the fifth seat for the Volt would be a big win for that car and $30K (final price) would really make it a smash hit. None of this is saying I think there is anything wrong with them now, just speculating on what would have them really skyrocket. I'm certainly glad they're both doing well and hope they keep improving. I can't wait to see the first Model S's ship also. They just have to be what Tesla says they are and they'll sell everything they can make.
          Grendal
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Spec
          @EZEE Sounds like a Volt would be perfect for your friend as long as he needs a new car. The Tesla Mass Market car that I want would be a good second choice if he can wait until 2016. That'll be a BEV with enough range for him for the same price? as the Volt. All this assumes he can even afford such things...
        MTN RANGER
        • 2 Years Ago
        @EZEE
        March 2012 #1 Acura RL 38 #2 Mitsubishi i MiEV 56 #3 Acura ZDX 88 #4 Hyundai Azera 128 #5 Suzuki Equator 157 #6 Subaru Tribeca 183 #7 Honda CR-Z 536 #8 Suzuki Grand Vitara 547 #9 Suzuki Kizashi 558 #10 Nissan LEAF 579 #11 Volkswagen Routan 590 #12 Hyundai Veracruz 622
          EZEE
          • 2 Years Ago
          @MTN RANGER
          You just rock MTN, thank you! :)
      goodoldgorr
      • 2 Years Ago
      I think that if someone begin to commercialize a hydrogen fuelcell car then gas prices will shrink. This new crop of hybrid and bev help a little bit but are not the solution, it take a ' new ' Treat to gasoline-diesel-kerosene-bunker fuel-coal-windmill-ethanol-methanol-sugar cane-corn-nuclear. Political leaders and car manufacturers and petrolmans have feared some years ago that hydrogen can erase millions of jobs in the energy sector, put the army in the musuem and provoke a famine in the middle east for millions of peoples and erase pollution so more moskitos in urban area. Also the control of worldwide petrol business and trading is in wall-street and not the opec so hydrogen is a local product made at the point of sale so it can be a huge downgrade for wallstreet investor if gas price shrink.
      Spec
      • 2 Years Ago
      The increase really needs to be larger. People really need to stop buying gas guzzlers because they will come to regret it in later years.
        Sasparilla Fizz
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Spec
        Its the good ol' USA and as short sighted as it is - there's lots of folks buying full size pickups for their "cars" when they don't need a pickup for work. They'll pay for the gasoline and its worth it to them somehow. The sales environment is definitely different today compared to 2008 and the last $4 gallon gasoline - hybrids were literally sold out during 2008's summer. Don't know if that's because we've seen $4 a gallon before so its not a shock now or the better gas mileage that DI is bringing to all vehicles (trucks included). I'm not sure even $5 a gallon would create almost panic buying like 2008 did - might need $6 these days. The other thing is that a good direct injection car is getting mileage much closer to a hybrid today, particularly the Honda's (I'm not sure how much a hybrid would benefit from DI) so the trade off in price and driving experience may not be worth it to nearly as many folks. If I was in the market for an ICE vehicle today I know I'd think twice comparing a DI Ford Focus (or other equivalent DI vehicle) with a hybrid - the hybrid will get better mileage of course (generally drive worse too) but it starts to be a question of is it worth the price difference - where that really wasn't such an issue in 2008. (i.e. hybrid mileage hasn't increased much since 2008 but DI vehicles mileage bumped up significantly since then) It's obvious Honda placed the wrong management bet on their sub par hybrid system versus improving their engines and adding DI.
          SVX pearlie
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Sasparilla Fizz
          With 90+% of cars being sold as ATs, I don't know why more OEMs aren't ramming CVTs down the customer's throat. Especially the Japanese appliance salesmen at Honda and Toyota. They could get another few% mpg fleet-wide from customers who simply don't care how the car drives as long as it gets better mileage.
        paulwesterberg
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Spec
        I agree, I bought a POS vehicle with mediocre mileage in 2002 and I still regret it. I am looking forward to the day it will be replaced. There are more hybrid vehicles with decent mileage to choose from today, but there are so many choices when it comes to purchasing a vehicle that I think that sometimes people get overwhelmed and just buy a car to get chicks or because it is a convertible or because it will keep the kids safe or some other stupid reason they latch onto.
          Grendal
          • 2 Years Ago
          @paulwesterberg
          @paulwesterberg What are your driving habits? What do you need your car to do? How much can you afford to spend? That will really help determine what type of car to buy. Even buying used you can usually find something that gets 30+ MPG fairly easily. Hybrids are hot on the used market so you probably would save the most buying a standard ICE.
          Ziv
          • 2 Years Ago
          @paulwesterberg
          Mediocre mileage and 10 years old? You are laughing all the way to the bank. But it is hard not to want that 50 mpg as the gas prices go up. Or 166 mpg with the Volt plus 10 kWh a day. Cool times we live in. There is another reason why the Leaf and the Volt are going to be great cars. I have a feeling there are going to be a lot of 20+ year old Leafs/Volts on the road in 2033. These cars are going to last forever compared to ICE vehicles.
          Sasparilla Fizz
          • 2 Years Ago
          @paulwesterberg
          Nick, I have to add, as a former Honda hybrid owner, be very wary of the NiMH battery on the Insight - recalibrations often start after 60k or 70k miles on the pack which are expensive and don't portend good things. Honda didn't manage their NiMH batteries so they'd last the life of the vehicle... I did just see an original Insight today and just loved the looks of it.
          Nick
          • 2 Years Ago
          @paulwesterberg
          paulwesterberg, Sell your car and get yourself a used 1-st gen Honda Insight. Still one of the most efficient cars on the road.
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