Lexus CT 200h
With gas prices surging, so are sales of the Toyota Prius. Toyota sold 18,605 Prii in March, an increase of 37.4 percent over February and an improvement of 57.9 percent as compared to March 2010. And first-quarter sales of the hybrid icon represented a 51.5 percent jump above the first three months of last year.
However, looking at those numbers in a vacuum doesn't tell the full story. The Prius, as I've mentioned in the past, has managed to transcend its hybrid positioning and firmly establish itself as a mainstream player. Remember, Toyota has sold more than a million Prii here in the U.S. since the car went on sale back in 2000. So impressive Prius sales in today's marketplace are really no surprise.
But what about the other hybrid players? Well, with the books now closed on Q1, let's take a look, courtesy of data from the folks at HybridCars.com.
Lexus Has the Last Laugh
Some of the most notable hybrid news from the first part of the year had to do with the Prius' upscale sibling, the 2011 Lexus CT 200h. On paper, the new Lexus looked to be a tough sell for U.S. buyers, and not only because it was a hybrid. Customers in this country haven't been too geeked on premium-priced small compacts, especially when they're hatchbacks, and the CT 200h is both. It's the size of a Ford Focus five-door hatch, but Lexus comes with a base MSRP ($29,120) that's well over $10,000 beyond the Ford's starting price ($18,790).
Yet the little Lexus found 2,199 buyers in March, the first month it was on sale. That seems like small potatoes, but let's add some of that ever-lovin' context: The slightly smaller, slightly less expensive Audi A3, another premium five-door hatchback, only managed 576 sales last month. Jumping back to the hybrid sales list, that Lexus performance was good enough for third place, roughly 680 units behind the Honda Insight. And again, I'll emphasize that was in the CT 200h's first month on the market.
Interestingly, a number of other luxe hybrids showed strong month-over-month sales gains for March. The Lexus RX 450h gained 43.9 percent more sales in March 2011 than in February, and did manage a 14.9 percent improvement over March 2010, and the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid found 55.7 percent more new customers last month than in February, but the Lincoln wasn't on sale at this time in 2010, so there's no year-over-year data available.
It's some small evidence that luxury buyers are warming up to hybrids'”which is better than nothing'”although we also have to keep in mind the obvious fact that there were more selling days in March than in February, and that just as obviously affects the month-over-month comparisons.
The Insight Takes Flight
Closer to the mainstream, the Honda Insight caught a nice 61.6 percent sales increase last month as compared to February, and for this car, that performance did extend to its year-over-year results. Insight sales in March of this year spiked 68.4 percent over their March 2010 mark, and through the first quarter, 21.8 percent more new customers bought an Insight as compared to the same period in 2010. With sales reaching 2,782 units last month, the Insight outsold cars like the Mazda MAZDA2, Chevrolet Aveo, Kia Rio, and Scion xB and Scion xD. And it was within 40 units of the Toyota Yaris and just a couple hundred behind the VW Golf.
The Honda CR-Z also had its best volume month ever in March, with its 1,685 sales being 54.4 percent higher than its February numbers; because of when it went on sale in 2010, year-over-year data isn't available.
Oddly, the Honda Civic Hybrid took a nose dive in March, following a nice string of sales improvements over the past months. Sales here were down 17.1 percent compared to February 2011 and down 23.8 percent from March 2010. Overall, though, the Civic Hybrid remains up 38 percent on the quarter.
Watershed or Wishful Thinking?
With overall hybrid sales seeing three times the improvement of the industry as a whole in March, and fuel prices showing no sign of falling, the HybridCars team thinks ye olde tide has finally turned. And this time, I think they may be right.