2013 Toyota Prius liftbackEnlarge Photo
There was a point, when Toyota Prius and Honda Insights were rolling off dealer lots in their mere hundreds nationwide, that hybrids were easy to dismiss.
Now, as sales leap 32 percent in the first two months of this year and market share sits around 4 percent, the humble hybrid has become a real player--and it's set to grow even further by the end of this decade.
Sales jumped almost a third in the first two months of this year, compared with the first two months of 2012. And some carmakers have seen even greater leaps thanks to new models--one Ford dealership in Houston has sold 400 percent more hybrids than this time last year, thanks to the introduction of the Fusion and C-Max hybrid models.
Ford is selling 3,000 to 4,000 of each model per month in the U.S, and its share of the hybrid market has risen from 5 percent in February last year to 17 percent this year.
Hybrid stalwart Toyota is faring well too, its Prius taking the title of highest-selling vehicle in California last year, from the ubiquitous Honda Civic.
Toyota's overall share of the hybrid market has fallen slightly from 72 percent to 63 percent--mainly thanks to the new Fords. But despite this, each carmaker is selling more vehicles as the market rapidly grows.
It's easy to see the appeal of hybrids, which still offer the best gas mileage of the non plug-in vehicles on sale. Two of Toyota's models--the Prius C subcompact and the Prius--still top the EPA gas mileage lists with 50 mpg combined ratings.
Initial concerns over the long-term life of battery packs and electric drivetrains have also eased.
Hybrids have proved popular with taxi fleets across the country thanks to their amazing longevity, and Toyota estimates that 90 percent of the Prius models it has sold since the model debuted in 2000 are still on the road. Battery packs often last 200,000 miles or more, certainly enough to ease any worries for the first or second owners.
While high sticker prices still deter some buyers, the increasing choice of hybrid vehicles and inexorable rise in gasoline prices are likely to tempt more and more buyers into one of the fuel-efficient models.
Hybrids really are here to stay.