Why hybrid sales surge as EV sales flatten


After years of being overshadowed by flashy electric vehicles from Tesla and others, the hybrid — a gas sipper that has both an engine and an electric motor — is back in the spotlight.

EV sales have slowed in the U.S., according to car website and data tracker Edmunds, with the time it takes for a car to sell once it lands on a dealer’s lot having gone from 25 days at the beginning of 2023 to 72 days just over a year later. That metric, called “days to turn,” is a good measure of popularity.

The nearly threefold jump in days to turn for EVs is a stratospheric rise, and it doesn’t match trends for other vehicle categories. Plain old internal combustion vehicles, which started 2023 at 34 days to turn, went to 52 days to turn in the same time period, according to the Edmunds data.

But standard hybrids easily beat the other categories in popularity — going from 16 days on the lot to 25 days in the same amount of time, data from Edmunds shows.

Hybrid sales grew five times faster than EV sales in February 2024, according to Morgan Stanley.

When the Toyota Prius came to the U.S. in 2000, the hybrid car became both an unlikely favorite among Hollywood stars and a popular choice among cash-strapped consumers looking to save money on gas. It wasn’t flashy or luxe, which made its popularity that much more striking.

But soon after that, Tesla sparked EV mania with its sleek, quick electric Roadster and Model S, shoving the hybrid to the margins. Almost every major automaker aggressively followed suit, eager not to be left behind in the EV revolution — that is, except Toyota, which trailed rivals. The world’s largest automaker to date, Toyota, which owns Lexus, sells only two EVs — the bZ4X and the Lexus RZ — neither of which sell in large volumes.

Pro-EV and environmental groups say Toyota has been lobbying to slow the EV revolution it missed out on. Though it has experimented before with battery-electric vehicles, such as the RAV EV, the company has long argued that the bridge to full electrification will be a long one and that most consumers aren’t ready for fully electric vehicles. 

But in late 2021, Toyota in a press release said it planned to release 30 EV models by 2030, with an annual sales target of $3.5 million.

About two years later, sales of hybrids and plug-ins increased nearly 28% over the previous year. They make up 30% of the Japanese behemoth’s portfolio. 

Toyota is not the only one capitalizing on hybrid sales.

Hyundai may add hybrids to a planned factory in Georgia originally intended to focus on EV. Ford said last year that it would pull back on production of some EV models — including its F-150 Lightning electric pickup truckin favor of more hybrids. General Motors, whose CEO, Mary Barra, has long said the company believes in an “all-electric future,” said earlier this year that the company will reintroduce plug-in hybrids to North America.

But the International Council on Clean Transportation said in a white paper published in 2021 that hybrids — simply because they burn fuel — aren’t as effective as EVs at reducing greenhouse gases.

Yet, defenders say they are a better short-term solution.

Some, especially plug-ins, may pollute more than expected and even have downsides for owners: high sticker prices, low selection, fuel costs, and all of the costs of maintaining a complex powertrain that involves both electric and conventional combustion elements.

Watch the video to learn more.

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