American car buyers have followed an interesting pattern over the last few years – gas prices go up, we buy fuel-efficient vehicles; gas prices go down, and it’s back to the guzzlers. It happened in June, too, as average fuel economy for new cars fell to the second-lowest point this year. But a curious thing came with it.
Even as customers were running right back to the low-MPG vehicles, they also returned to hybrids and electric vehicles. In fact, compared to a year ago, sales of alternative-energy vehicles were up by 164-percent in June, according to a recent report from Kelley Blue Book.
Americans bought 23,778 hybrid and electric cars last month, the fifth straight month of more than 20,000 even though gas prices fell to their lowest point since January. But it's not all good news.
The quick, armchair analysis would be to say that customers are growing more comfortable with buying hybrid and electric cars like the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf, which would be an excellent sign for automakers devoting a lot of investment into such future technologies – as well as the federal government, which is subsidizing most of these purchases through rebates.
In fact, there could be several reasons for the resiliency of electric and hybrid sales recently. There are many more fuel efficient options these days, from hybrid trucks and SUVs to high-horsepower cars like the Kia Optima and Infiniti M35h. Meanwhile, the economy is relatively stable – not thriving by any means, but stable – and that may make customers more comfortable with shelling out extra money to drive efficiently.
It would also appear that buyers have overcome initial fears that the Volt is unsafe, scooping it up to the tune of a 200-percent year-over-year increase. Likewise, the Lexus CT 200h saw a 500-percent increase (proving that the struggling sales of the now-defunct HS 250h didn’t signal disinterest in a Lexus hybrid – just disinterest in one that ugly). Sales of the ever-popular Toyota Prius are up by 300-percent. But it’s not all good news.
Still, while hybrid and electric sales are up dramatically compared to last year, they’re falling consistently from a peak of 35,687 sold in March; when fuel prices were nearing their height. Sales of the Honda CR-Z, Honda Insight and Leaf all fell dramatically. If fuel prices continue their fall, and the correlation between the pump and sales is true, then sales could soon dip below 20,000.
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Are you more likely to buy a hybrid or electric vehicle these days – even as gas prices have fallen? Let us know in the Comments below.