For the first time since we started tracking green-car figures, year-over year sales of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids were down, as Americans in October bought fewer Ford plug-in hybrids and Chevrolet Volt extended-range plug-ins. US plug-in vehicle sales last month fell by 12 percent – more than 1,000 units – to 7,817 vehicles, not including the Tesla Model S (Tesla doesn't break out US sales or monthly sales totals). Green-car sales, by which we mean hybrids and diesels as well as plug-ins, declined by 13 percent in October to 42,196 vehicles.
For the first time since we started tracking them, year-over year green car sales were down.
The culprit may be lower gas prices, as Automotive News recently noted that makers of hybrids like the Toyota Prius have been forced to boost incentives to move product out the door. That's because US gas prices have gone under the $3 threshold, averaging about $2.97 a gallon, according to AAA. That's a 33-cent plunge from just a month ago.
As a result, plug-in sales declines were widespread. Sales of the Ford Fusion Energi and C-Max Energi Plug-in Hybrids fell 37 percent and 41 percent from a year earlier, respectively, while Volt sales dropped 29 percent to 1,439 units. And the Prius Plug-in Hybrid sales plunged 77 percent from a year earlier to 479 units.
Prius Plug-in Hybrid sales plunged 77 percent to 479 units.
Those declines more than offset the impact of another strong sales month for the Nissan Leaf and healthy demand for BMW's newer plug-ins. Leaf sales jumped 29 percent from a year earlier to 2,589 vehicles, while Bimmer's i3 and i8 battery-electric and plug-in hybrid models moved 1,159 and 204 vehicles, respectively. And Daimler's Smart ForTwo ED boosted October sales by 35 percent from a year earlier, but only to 150 vehicles.
Overall, automakers had a tough time maintaining an interest in green cars. Ford's green-car demand fell 19 percent to 5,660 units, and Fusion, C-Max and Lincoln MKZ Hybrid sales were all down from October 2013. General Motors' green-car sales plunged 35 percent from a year earlier on lower demand for both the Volt and Chevrolet- and Buick-branded mild hybrids. With demand for the Prius's four variants down a collective 14 percent, Toyota's green-car sales fell by the same percentage to 20,498 units. Volkswagen diesel sales fell 19 percent from a year earlier, while hybrid sales practically disappeared. And even Honda, which had been benefiting from sales of its newer Accord hybrid and plug-in hybrid models, reported a 7.1 percent decline in sales to 2,060 units.
The good news is that year-to-date plug-in sales are up 32 percent.
The good news is that year-to-date plug-in sales are up 32 percent to almost 82,000 units, not including Tesla. The bad news is that overall green-car sales are down 6.1 percent to almost 515,000 units. We'll be paying extra close attention next month to see if this is a blip of the start of a trend. Until then, we'll be watching the prices at the pump.