Gas Prices Up 8.2%, Hybrid Sales Down 11.0% In May... Wait, What?S

There may be no better indicator that many carmakers have been unable to adjust to the sudden increase in gas prices and the resulting shift in consumer demand than hybrid sales. Although there was an obvious run to more fuel-efficient cars — witness the Civic besting the Ford F-150 in overall sales for the first time ever — hybrid sales overall were down 11% from April to May, down 24.3% month-to-month from 2007 and even the market-leading Toyota Prius experienced a 31% drop in sales for the month. How did that happen? There are a few factors at work here, which we've helpfully outlined below the jump.

First off, there was an overall drop in vehicle sales in the United States — that's obviously going to affect sales of the largest fuel-suckers first, but the current economic situation affects anyone looking to buy right now, even in the hybrid marketplace. But the biggest factor isn't the issue of demand, it's supply. Toyota decided to only create about 175,000 Prii a year and is sticking to that number — mostly because their suppliers don't have the ability to quickly add capacity. That means despite the increase in demand, there just aren't any more to buy. The Camry Hybrid's seen a sales drop as well, because of this same supplier issue.

Comically, the biggest winner for the month were Saturn's hybrids — the Vue crossover and Auru sedan. Aura sales were up an astonishing 800%! Obviously since the Vue is a larger vehicle, it only saw a month-to-month increase of 750%. Unfortunately, due to some of their own serious supply issues, like battery leakage problems, 800% only translates to total monthly sales of 36 and 750% only translates to another limp volume number. Again, a supply issue.

Other hybrids also did reasonably well, including a 100.6% month-over-month increase in sales for the Nissan Altima Hybrid and a 3.5% year-over-year increase for the Civic Hybrid. But given that hybrid sales in the US for 2008 total only 155,958 vehicles, minor fluctuations make a big impact on monthly results. Overall, although hybrid sales are up 4.5% compared to the first five months of 2007, if neither Toyota or GM are able to get their supplier issues licked, we're not expecting it to start raining hybrids anytime soon. [WSJ, HybridCars.com]