By The Numbers

2014: A year that will live in infamy? Edition

Annual Green Car Sales Drop 6.5 Percent Compared To 2013

Last year was finally the year when US sales of hybrids, plug-ins and diesels dropped off, and December numbers were no different. It's a good things automakers have a decent excuse for the lag in demand.

US green-car sales in 2014 fell 6.5 percent from a year earlier to about 604,000 units, not including Tesla Motors' figures (Tesla doesn't break out US sales, and its fourth-quarter numbers won't come in until next month). Break out the plug-ins, and the news is rosier, as Americans boosted purchases of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids last year by 28 percent to just short of 100,000 vehicles.

Still, compared to 2013's 17 percent increase in green-car sales and 55 percent jump in plug-ins, last year was a disappointment. The culprit may have been low gas prices, which make it less cost-effective to buy that hybrid or plug-in. Gas prices are down by about a third from a year ago to $2.19 a gallon from about $3.32, according to AAA. In fact, Schneider Electric's Matt Smith recently said on CNBC that Americans may save as much as $80 billion on refueling costs in 2015, which comes out to about $700 per household, and that's factoring in a now-expensive $2.60 gallon price.

That may be little solace to automakers like Toyota, though. The world's biggest maker of hybrids saw green-car sales fall 9.8 percent last year to about 311,000 units. The four Prius variants moved 207,372 units, down 11 percent, while Camry, Highlander and Avalon Hybrid sales were also all down. Toyota's Lexus division did well by comparison, though green-car sales were still down 2.6 percent to about 42,500 vehicles.

General Motors had an even tougher year when compared to 2013.

General Motors had an even tougher year when compared to 2013. The US automaker's green-car sales plunged 30 percent from a year earlier to about 36,000 units. Demand for the Chevrolet Volt extended-range plug-in dropped as the automaker prepares to release the next-generation model, and sales fell 19 percent to 18,805 vehicles. And while Buick LaCrosse eAssist sales rose 6 percent, demand for other mild hybrid models such as the Buick Regal eAssist and Chevrolet Malibu ECO all but disappeared. And the more positive note, Chevrolet Cruze Diesel sales almost doubled to about 6,000 units, while Chevy Spark EV sales jumped 76 percent to 1,146 vehicles.

Ford fared considerably better, as green-car sales fell just 1.4 percent last year to just over 86,500 units. Notably, Ford Fusion Energi Plug-in Hybrid sales almost doubled to 11,550 vehicles, while Lincoln MKZ Hybrid sales rose 34 percent to a little over 10,000 units.

Volkswagen also appeared to suffer from lower gas prices, as diesel and hybrid sales dropped 19 percent from a year earlier to almost 82,000 vehicles. Low-volume green-car vehicle makers Mitsubishi and Porsche also felt the pinch, as Mitsubishi i electric vehicle sales fell 81 percent to 196 units, while Porsche hybrid and diesel sales were down 19 percent to 4,967 vehicles.

Saving things for green-car advocates were Nissan, Honda and, to a lesser extent, Audi.

Saving things for green-car advocates were Nissan, Honda and, to a lesser extent, Audi. Nissan Leaf EV sales jumped 34 percent from a year earlier to 30,200 vehicles, while Honda green-car sales rose 36 percent to almost 28,000, purely on higher demand for the relatively new Accord Hybrid. Audi diesel sales jumped 58 percent to almost 16,000 vehicles last year. Sales for the Smart ForTwo ED almost tripled to about 2,600 units, while BMW's i3 and i8 plug-ins combined for 6,647 units during their first partial year of sales.

But, break out the December numbers and things get worse. Green-car sales last month fell 7.8 percent to about 46,000 units, while plug-in sales rose 8.6 percent to 8,776 vehicles. Again, Toyota set the tone, as its green-car sales fell 8.6 percent to 22,788 units largely on a drop in demand for the standard Prius liftback.

GM's green-car demand in December dropped 25 percent from a year earlier to 2,912 vehicles, as Chevy Volt sales plunged 38 percent. Ford green-car sales in December fell 8.9 percent as sales for both the Fusion Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid fell. VW green-car sales fell 12 percent to 5,644 vehicles, while Audi diesel sales were down 32 percent to 1,336 units.

Nissan Leaf demand continued to rise last month, as sales were up 23 percent from a year earlier to 3,102 units. And Honda green-car sales increased 20 percent to 2,378 vehicles as Accord Hybrid demand almost tripled from a year earlier.

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