December 2015: The was-it-or-wasn't-it edition

Last Month Was Still A Lot Better Than Last Year

December's green-car demand marked a substantial uptick from the softer sales for hybrids, plug-ins and diesels that was evident for the rest of 2015. We think.

Overall, plug-in vehicles sales rose about 14 percent from a year earlier to almost 12,000 units last month. Hybrid sales were down 11 percent in December to about 41,000 units. The big difference was Volkswagen's continued stop-sale on diesel vehicles as the German automaker continues to sort out its diesel-emissions mess. That means the rest of the alt-fuel market pretty much tread water last month, which – oddly - signals an improvement of sorts.

Questions remain, though. For plug-ins, the differential could be completely attributed to Tesla Motors, which not only reported record fourth-quarter deliveries but disclosed the first sales numbers for its Model X electric SUV. Which is all fine and dandy except, as we know, Tesla breaks out neither monthly sales nor North American sales numbers, leaving us to extrapolate what might have been. Needless to say, Tesla's sales were up, as was plug-in demand.

Meanwhile, overall green-car numbers were actually worse, except we don't know by how much because Volkswagen's Audi division, which also has a stop-sale on diesels, stopped disclosing monthly diesel numbers in April, so they've been essentially pulled out of the mix.

The big winners, aside from Tesla, were BMW, Toyota and, to a lesser extent, General Motors. Bimmer's plug-in sales jumped 77 percent from a year earlier to 2,078 units, as i3 sales were up 40 percent and i8 demand quadrupled.

Toyota rebounded a bit from a tough year, as its green-car sales rose 7.3 percent to more than 24,000 vehicles. The Prius' four variants boosted their sales by a collective 4.6 percent to 15,076 vehicles, while Lexus hybrid sales were up more than seven percent.

And while GM's green-car sales were down 14 percent to 2,636, sales of the Chevrolet Volt extended-range plug-in surged 42 percent to 2,114 units, while Spark EV sales rose 16 percent from a year earlier.

Ford's month was "meh" but still represented an improvement over the rest of a tough year. The Blue Oval's green-car sales fell 8.8 percent from a year earlier to about 5,400 units, as a jump in Fusion Energi Plug-in Hybrid and Lincoln MKZ Hybrid sales was offset by a decline in Fusion Hybrid and C-Max Hybrid Sales.

Then, of course, there's Nissan and Honda. Nissan Leaf EV sales continued to plunge as folks await updates, and December sales declined 57 percent to 1,347 units. Honda fared even worse, as green car sales plunged 65 percent from a year earlier to just 843 units. Notably, Accord Hybrid sales dropped 82 percent to 222 vehicles.

For the year (which we will explore soon in a separate post), green-car sales fell 16 percent to about 516,000 units, with about a quarter of that 97,000-unit differential being accounted for by VW diesels alone. Plug-in vehicle sales declined 7 percent to almost 110,000 units.

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