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30+ MPG Cars Aren't Selling as Planned

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author photo by Autotrader June 2010

U.S. sales of the utmost fuel-efficient cars are slipping. According to "Ward's Auto", sales of new cars that get 30+ mpg are down 10 percent in the first five months of 2010 versus that same period last year.

Especially hard hit were the Toyota Camry Hybrid (down 40 percent), Honda Civic Hybrid (down 77 percent), and Honda Fit (down 19.7 percent).

While the numbers may sound alarming, cars this efficient represent a very small percentage of U.S. vehicle sales. This segment of cars accounted for just four percent of auto sales in 2009, three percent thus far in 2010. Nonetheless, that's a 23.5 percent drop in market share in light of 2010's healthy increase in auto sales.

A more pessimistic look at this issue says that the American obsession with the SUV and other guzzlers caused this trend. Ward's declares that the decrease in gas prices has relaxed consumer interest in highly efficient autos: "With the nation's economy improving and the threat of gasoline prices nearing $4 per gallon seemingly remote, consumers clearly have backed away from small cars, at least in the short term." Still others feel it is high time for a gasoline tax. Regardless, we're quite sure this news doesn't exactly sound the death knell for highly efficient vehicle sales, technology, or production.

Looking at two of the worst performers listed above, each has been overshadowed by fresh new metal; Toyota's Camry Hybrid was the sore loser when Ford's Fusion Hybrid beat it in the fuel economy game last year, and Honda's newer Insight uses the Civic Hybrid's drivetrain but wrapped it in the edgy, hybrid-chic hatch body style popularized by Toyota's Prius. Speaking of the Prius, which arguably started the whole hybrid craze, it enjoyed a healthy 28.7 percent sales increase through May. And the Honda Insight posted a huge 61 percent jump in sales, nearly mitigating the Civic Hybrid's dismal performance.

It seems the culprits for the sales slide are the most efficient non-hybrid small cars. The aforementioned Honda Fit, down 19.7 percent for the first five months of 2010, the Toyota Yaris, down 38.3 percent, and finally the Smart for ForTwo, which plunged 63 percent, "drove the poor results," reasoned Ward's.

Perhaps the best news: overall fuel efficiency is - ever so slightly - on the rise. Vehicles in Ward's 20-plus to 30 mpg segment rose nearly three percent in the first five months of 2010 compared to the same period in '09. Again, while the small niche of extremely efficient autos is still finding a foothold in the market, the overall trend is towards greater efficiency.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
30+ MPG Cars Aren't Selling as Planned - Autotrader