Taking a deeper look at alternative fuel vehicle sales figures

Take a look at this chart, which WardsAuto published in late February showing something quite rare: detailed sales numbers on every type of alternative fuel vehicle sold in the US over the past five years in the light-duty passenger vehicle market. WardsAuto is getting these numbers from its own internal database of sales figures. I’m not sure what the “Unspecified Gas/Diesel” category means, and WardsAuto has not yet responded to my inquiry about it. However, looking at each of the vehicle categories offers a comprehensive view of market trends…….

  • Hybrids continue to make up the largest share of US new vehicle sales for alt-fuel vehicles, but “clean diesel” isn’t far behind – 3.2% of total market share for hybrids in 2013 versus 2.85% for diesel. Some would argue that diesel shouldn’t be analyzed at all as an alternative fuel – it still comes entirely from oil; regardless, it is getting considered as an alternative by a few analysts as more Americans are starting to own them for passenger cars for the first time ever in place of gasoline engine vehicles. Strong performance and fuel efficiency are helping German automakers sell them in this market, and US automakers are starting to get into that space.
  • Electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles made up .64% of new vehicle sales last year – only two thirds of a percent. However, the growth rate since starting plug-in sales in late 2010 is outstripping where hybrid sales, mainly from Toyota and Honda, were performing in their first years in the early 2000s. There are more EVs coming to market this year and beyond, which should help grow their sales numbers – along with pricing coming down and more charging stations being installed around the country.
  • Hydrogen fuel cell vehicle sales are still very small; the Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell vehicle is going to be on the market by early summer and has a production volume target of 1,000 units through 2015. There will be other models coming on the market through Toyota and Honda next year.
  • Hybrid sales are nearing 500,000 units per year, jumping up significantly in 2012. Forecasters, including JD Power and Associates, see hybrids growing in sales percentages in the next 10 years. There’s a lot more hybrid vehicle options at dealerships now than about five years ago, and that will continue to grow.
  • Compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicle numbers are very small with very little available on the retail market – the Honda Civic Natural Gas being about it. The Ford F-150 half-ton that can run on natural gas and propane came on the market last summer, and Chrysler and GM have heavier pickups more suited to commercial usage than passenger. Parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has interest in more CNG-powered vehicles coming to the US, as natural gas has played an important role in Italian transportation since the 1950s.

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