The Ford Fusion Hybrid knocked the Prius out of the top spot for the first time in U.S. sales during January and March. That’s reflected more market competition and an overall hybrid sales decline in the U.S. since gasoline prices took a dive in 2014 and stayed down.
Compared to that pivotal year, U.S. hybrid sales were down from 43,790 in March 2014 (right before the oil price drop) to 32,012 units sold in March 2017. Sales for the Prius liftback, which had been the flagship green car in the U.S. and globally for the past decade, dropped about 50 percent during that period.
Pressure has been on Toyota and other automakers – especially Japanese rival Honda – to join the electric vehicle race. Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai had been leaning toward hydrogen fuel cell vehicles over EVs as an alternative technology. But growing sales of EVs in China and pressure brought on by Tesla and its upcoming Model 3 put Toyota in a quandary.
Toyota appears to be more likely to keep a broad, diverse portfolio of powertrain offerings, and that goes for other automakers as well.
Toyota announced this spring that it had registered 16 percent growth in hybrid-vehicle sales last year, delivering a record 1.4 million of these vehicles to the global market. In January, the company passed the 10 million mark in hybrid sales since the Prius was initially launched in Japan in December 1997. The leading automaker in 2016 global sales now has 37 hybrid models on the market, with 28 of them Toyota models and nine being Lexus models. Related: Did OPEC Shoot Itself In The Foot?
Its Prius Prime plug-in hybrid is seeing strong sales, much better than its first Prius Plug-in Hybrid that lost interest from its limited range in battery power before being pulled from the market.
While China isn’t offering “new energy vehicle” incentives for hybrids, with only all-electric, plug-in hybrid, and fuel cell vehicles qualifying, hybrid sales aren’t being hurt. Sales of hybrids tripled to 111,981 units in that country during 2016; about two thirds of that total came from sales of Toyota Corolla and Levin hybrids, whose key components have been locally produced since 2015. Keeping those two hybrids at the same selling price as their gasoline-engine versions has also helped sales.
The Japanese giant won’t be backing away from hydrogen and fuel cell technology, either – and its going beyond its Mirai passenger car.
Toyota just launched its “Project Portal” Class 8 hydrogen fuel cell drayage truck. The zero-emission truck will soon start making zero-emission trial runs from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. If it works out, Toyota will be finding other applications for its fuel cells in other freight and passenger vehicles.
Ford Motor Co. is also taking a broad approach to launching new vehicles that will meet stringent emissions policies in China, Europe, and the U.S. The Detroit automaker had shown off a new small SUV all-electric prototype and a plug-in hybrid version of its Mondeo midsize car in China right before 2017 Auto Shanghai started.
Yet, Ford is taking a wait-and-see approach to global market demand, with its F-150 pickup truck remaining a strong seller in its lineup. Ford CEO Mark Fields illustrated that cautious strategy by making appeals to President Donald Trump earlier this year to soften U.S. fuel economy and emissions rules. Related: Is Australia The Next Big Thing In Shale?
The Detroit automaker has been slow to launch electric vehicles in global markets. Like competitor Toyota, Ford seems to have more confidence in hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles over battery electric models. That helped Ford design the Ford Fusion Hybrid Prius-competitor, and its plug-in hybrid version, the Fusion Energi.
Earlier this month, Ford launched the Police Responder Hybrid Sedan to law enforcement agencies. The automaker received an EPA-estimated mpg of 38 combined city and highway. That was more than double the mileage of the Ford Police Interceptor with its 3.7-liter, V6 engine and 18 mpg combined EPA rating.
By Jon LeSage for Oilprice.com
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