Even with the strong performance of electric vehicles, green car sales including diesels and hybrids fell in the U.S. by 6.5% in 2014. It’s safe to say that low gas prices contributed to the slump, which became aggravated late in the year.
Standard hybrid systems took the worst of the hit. With less expensive gas models returning slightly worse efficiency, new car buyers felt no need to invest in hybrid systems. Whether or not they regret those decisions in 2015 or 2016 remains to be seen. As Ford CEO Mark Fields and President Barack Obama both noted recently, gas prices have a very good shot at heading back to $3 or more per gallon.
(If you don’t care to take their word for it, here’s a list of gas prices from the past two decades. The jump from 2.35 to 3.52 can happen fast.)
Several hybrid manufacturers managed to sell a high number of hybrids despite the chips being stacked against them. Here are the seven best-selling hybrids on the U.S. market in 2014. Figures are provided by Auto Blog Green.
7. Toyota Avalon Hybrid
The full-size Toyota sedan was one of the few hybrids of the non-plug-in variety that manage to make gains in 2014. U.S. consumers picked up 17,048 units of the Avalon, a 3.52% gain over 2013. Those buyers were willing to shell out the base price of $41,700 to get the hybrid’s impressive 40 miles per gallon. Compared to the 24 miles per gallon the base model gets, there is a huge leap in economy. However, the base model’s price of $32,285 may be too low to pass up if gas prices do not rise.
6. Lexus CT 200h
No standard hybrid posted gains like the Lexus CT 200h did in 2014. Toyota’s premium brand moved 17,673 units of the the hybrid wagon, which represented a 17% jump over the previous year. With 42 combined miles per gallon in efficiency, buyers get to inch closer to Prius standards in efficiency. (Unfortunately, this model resembles the Prius in profile.) Nonetheless, the package of economy and utility with a Lexus badge is tempting a great deal of consumers at the base price of $32,050.
5. Chevrolet Volt
Chevy has a new Volt for the 2016 model year, but the last generation managed to crack the top five in overall sales among hybrids with 18,805 units sold in 2014. That figure represented a decline of 18.57% over the prior year’s numbers, which on some level should be expected when an automaker phases out a model. Volts can run 38 miles on pure electric power then manage 37 miles per gallon in gasoline mode. Overall, the EPA estimates the Volt’s performance at the equivalent of 98 miles per gallon.
4. Ford C-Max Hybrid
While C-Max Energi plug-in models posted gains in 2014, sales of the standard hybrid model dropped 32% with 19,162 units delivered. Revised fuel economy figures for the C-Max likely contributed to the problem on the U.S. market, but gas prices probably factored in as well. At 40 miles per gallon combined for the base model ($24,170), there is still enough of an audience for Ford to crack the top five with this hybrid. The C-Max Energi model will be the vehicle to watch moving forward.
3. Ford Fusion Hybrid
Fusion Energi also posted huge gains for Ford in 2014, but the standard hybrid (42 miles per gallon combined) proved to be the biggest volume seller for the automaker with 35,405 units sold, a slight drop of 5% compared to 2013. The sales tally kept the Fusion one of two midsize sedans with a major hybrid market in the U.S. At $4,000 above the base model ($26,085), expect the hybrid to continue to suffer plateauing sales figures — that is, until the next time gas prices rise.
2. Toyota Camry Hybrid
Another model from Toyota’s efficient lineup ended up in the winner’s circle for hybrid sales. Camry, America’s best-selling car, managed to sell the second-most hybrids as well. In total, Toyota delivered 39,515 Camry hybrids ($26,790) to U.S. consumers in 2014, a decline of 11% compared to 2013. By comparison, standard Camrys ($22,970) sold a whopping 428,606 units on the year, which marked a gain of 5%. It’s doubtful even dirt-cheap fuel prices could shake Toyota’s grip on the small car market, even if it dents sales of the automaker’s hybrid line.
1. Toyota Prius
Was there any doubt Prius ($24,200) and its 50 miles per gallon economy would reign again? The original hybrid posted huge sales figures in 2014 with 122,776 units (down 15%) of just one Prius model. Add in the C, V, and plug-in variants and the number jumps to 207,372 hybrid sales for the Prius family alone — more than every other car on this list combined.
Even with the nameplate’s longstanding success among U.S. consumers, the 11.5% dip in Prius family sales on the year already has some writers smelling blood. Time Inc.’s Money was one of the first to remark on “the beginning of the end” for the Prius. If you’re keeping score at home, that would mean another car on this list would just have to sell another 150,000 units. Don’t hold your breath.