Even though gas prices have risen considerably over the past year, sales of hybrids and electric vehicles plummeted last month-- hitting a 16-month low. While the biggest factor affecting sales was a reduction in supply caused by the earthquake in Japan, increased competition from lower-priced, fuel-efficient gas-powered small cars also added to the drop, reported Edmunds' AutoObserver.com.
"While Japanese automakers may well gain back their lost share on other vehicles, hybrids will face an even steeper climb back to previous levels, given the greater and growing competition from fuel-efficient, non-hybrid vehicles," the release states.
There are already eight internal-combustion engine cars that provide 40 MPG, while more than 35 models earn a combined city/highway rating of 30 miles per gallon. So despite the increase cost of gas, drivers are opting for fuel-efficient gas powered options, that tend to be cheaper than hybrids. With the current economic situation, that trend is only likely to rise. In fact, a pricing analysis by Edmunds.com found that the effective cost of a new Prius was $2,500 more in May than just three months ago, making the car less attractive to consumers.
Sales of hybrids and electric vehicles fell 35.8 percent from a year earlier, with sales of Toyota and Lexus hybrids dropping 45.1 percent for the month. Honda, the second-largest producer of hybrids, saw its sales in the segment fall 29 percent in May. The Toyota Prius, which usually accounts for 50 percent of hybrid sales only sold 6,924 Priuses in May (51 percent down from the same time last year).
"For those selling hybrids, it is incredibly bad luck that the Japanese earthquake and associated production disruptions occurred as gas prices were reaching their highest levels in three years," said Edmunds.com Chief Economist Lacey Plache. "While Japanese automakers may well gain back their lost share on other vehicles, hybrids will face an even steeper climb back to previous levels, given the greater and growing competition from fuel-efficient, non-hybrid vehicles."