Is a down market the "new normal" for US green-car vehicle sales? That's what analysts and advanced-powertrain advocates may be asking after green-car sales turned in their third straight down month in August.
Not even record sales of the Nissan Leaf battery-electric could save things, as Americans cut their purchases of hybrids, plug-ins and diesels by about 11 percent last month compared to 2013 figures. And while not all sales numbers are in (Daimler's Smart division hadn't submitted its detailed green vehicle sales numbers as of press time, and Tesla Motors doesn't break out monthly sales of its all-electric Model S), tracked sales in August were down by almost 8,300 units to about 64,500 green vehicles sold. With such tepid August numbers, year-to-date green-car sales are down about five percent to about 430,000 units, not including Tesla.
Not even record sales of the Nissan Leaf battery-electric could save August.
"Everyone reasonably assumes that the electric drive market will continue to grow incrementally, but we're just not seeing any growth this year," said Jessica Caldwell, senior analyst with Edmunds.com. "Stable gas prices likely have a lot to do with it, but there's also the possibility that the prestige of owning an EV or hybrid has died down, especially as new generations of traditional gas guzzlers transform into fuel sippers. And as summer months wind down, we're approaching a time of the year when sales of these vehicles tend to be slower, so a late-year surge is not very likely."
As usual, Toyota was the bellwether. The Japanese automaker's green-car sales fell 9.1 percent from a year earlier to 35,248 units. Sales among Toyota's four Prius hybrid variants declined a collective 14 percent to 23,437 units, while Camry Hybrid sales fell 8.7 percent. Toyota's Lexus division and the Avalon Hybrid were the exceptions, boosting sales by 7.7 percent and 40 percent, respectively.
As usual, Toyota was the bellwether.
General Motors fared substantially worse. The Chevrolet Volt extended-range plug-in saw a drop in sales, which were down 25 percent from a year earlier to 2,511 units. And while the Chevrolet Cruze Diesel sales jumped 70 percent to 732 units, sales GM's mild-hybrid vehicle line plunged. Specifically, the Chevrolet Malibu ECO moved 21 vehicles last month, down from 1,582 in August of 2013.
Meanwhile, Volkswagen diesel sales plunged 33 percent to 8,182 units, while VW hybrid sales fell 78 percent.
Making up some of that shortfall were Nissan, Ford, Honda and Audi. Leaf electric vehicle sales jumped 32 percent to a monthly record 3,186 vehicles. Ford's green-car sales rose 4.8 percent to 8,688 units, as C-Max Hybrid and C-Max Energi Plug-in Hybrid sales rose 1.7 percent and 69 percent, respectively. And Honda was helped by the 1,175 units sold of its new Accord Hybrid, which more than made up for lower demand for models like the CR-Z, Insight and Civic Hybrid. Overall, Honda green-car sales climbed 31 percent to 2,435 units. And Audi boosted August diesel sales by 3.7 percent to 1,224 units.
As for smaller-production green-car makers, BMW sold 1,025 of its i3 battery-electric vehicles while selling its first nine i8 plug-in hybrids in the US last month. Porsche's diesel and hybrid sales fell 57 percent to 255 units. And Mitsubishi cut sales of its battery-electric i by 33 percent to just 20 units.