Fuel prices in the US have been tumbling for the last several weeks, with the average price of a gallon of gas at $3.120 as of October 20, according to the US Energy Information Administration. That price reflects a serious recent drop from $3.299 on October 6. Reports have even suggested that those low numbers might not change for a little while, perhaps as long as years. While drivers certainly love paying less at the pump, the change may be hurting the market for more fuel-efficient models, including the Toyota Prius.
"As Prius represents by far the biggest chunk of the hybrid marketplace, where Prius goes, the segment goes," – Ed Kim, Autopacific
According to a report from National Public Radio, sales of hybrids, plug-ins and EVs are down around 5 percent for the year, but trucks and SUVs have seen a 17 and 20 percent improvement, respectively. Autoblog Green's By the Numbers reports indicate similar figures of around a 5.4 percent drop so far in 2014. In fact, as of September, green-car sales have endured their fourth straight month of declines. That segment of the market fell 11 percent year-over-year in August and 9.6 percent in September.
"As Prius represents by far the biggest chunk of the hybrid marketplace, where Prius goes, the segment goes," Ed Kim, Vice President of Industry Analysis at AutoPacific tells Autoblog. That paints a bleak picture for hybrids, because at the moment, the Prius is doing pretty poorly. For the year through September, its sales are down 11.39 percent, off by 10.15 percent for just that month.
Of course, the Prius also has things twice has hard. Not only does it have to deal with the falling fuel prices like the rest of its segment-mates, it's about to be replaced. Rumors suggest that some versions of the next generation could get as much as 60 miles per gallon. "I do think that the next Prius will reignite interest in the segment, especially if it offers the 10-percent fuel economy improvement that Toyota has been claiming," said Kim.
That improvement still might make things tough, though. According to Autotrader senior analyst Michelle Krebs speaking to Autoblog via email, "The next-generation Prius – and other hybrids and electrics – have a big challenge against traditional gas vehicles, which keep improving with every version in terms of fuel economy."
Meanwhile, the overall US auto market is booming. As of August, the Seasonally Adjusted Sales Rate showed the best figures since 2006, at about 17.5 million units. "Right now, gas prices are dropping, sales of fuel-sippers are also falling (or at least not growing) and sales of pickup trucks and SUVs, including big ones, are way up," said Krebs. Scroll down to listen to the full report from NPR.