HybridCars Asks: Is The Hybrid Car Recession Proof?S

Clearly, our impending/new/ongoing recession is having an impact on the automotive industry (just ask GM and their $38 billion disappearing act). Consumers are having to ask questions they didn't have to ask in the carefree 1990's. And while small manufacturers like Maserati can aim for the extremely affluent profiting on our economic troubles, it's not as easy for others. Or is it? According to HybridCars.com's "Hybrid Market Dashboard," hybrids in the U.S. saw a year-over-year 24.9% sales increase for January 2008, compared to a 2.9% decrease for all cars sold in the U.S.

Of course, hybrid sales are still down compared to December 2007, but that's a common yearly occurrence. When you take a closer look at the numbers you see that the more luxurious hybrids are seeing a decrease in sales as compared to their more pedestrian cousins. The Ford Escape sales were up 24.7% compared to last January, while the Mercury Mariner was down 10.6% over the same period. The Toyota Highlander's sales grew 18.4% while the Lexus RX400h dropped by 2.7%. The Toyota Prius and Camry both had a great January, increasing 37.1% and 33.9%, respectively. The Lexus brand GS450h saw a decrease of 61.7%.

There are other factors to consider here. Certainly gas prices, advertising and decreasing awareness play into car sales (for instance, Honda is no longer selling actively selling Hybrid Accords). There's no longer a hybrid tax credit for Toyotas as they've exceeded their sales cap.

But it looks as though the recession is having an impact on hybrid buyers, who are already paying a premium over the gas-only alternatives and might not want to pay a premium on top of that to get the "luxury" edition. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out given that Hybrid Escalade is going to cost significantly more than a Yukon Hybrid. It'll also be interesting to see if this impacts the upper reaches of the market, such as the upcoming Fisker Karma Hybrid Sedan.

[HybridCars.com]