Toyota hybrids pass 4 million in global sales

If anyone doubted whether hybrid cars are here to stay or not, then look no further than Toyota’s latest global sales figures.

According to the car maker, hybrids this year accounted for 15 percent of their global vehicle sales. That’s 4 million units sold, as of April, since their introduction in Japan in 1997.

This is heartening news indeed and reflective of the fact that among the major automakers Toyota has really championed the hybrid.

The Toyota Prius was the first hybrid to really take hold in the U.S., in 2000. More than a decade on its status as the most iconic hybrid brand is undiminished: according to Toyota it accounts for half of all hybrids on the road in the U.S. with sales totaling 1.2 million units through April 2012.

Overall hybrid sales have been helped by the expansion of the Prius family in the last eight months (high fuel prices could have something to do with the trend, too). Last November, the Prius v was introduced in to the market followed by Prius c and Prius Plug-in during the first quarter this year. In that time U.S sales for all models of the Prius reached 60,859 units.

However, before we get carried away with ourselves it’s important to put the Prius’ success in context. For a few years now, hybrid sales have been stalled at 2 to 3 percent of the U.S. market.

Last year, in particular was a bad year for sales in part, analysts believe, because two of the top three selling models of hybrids — the Prius and the Honda Insight — are made in Japan and the Japanese car industry was severely impacted by the spring 2011 tsunami (the third hybrid is the Korean-made Hyundai Sonata Hybrid). For the first seven months of 2011, hybrid sales in the U.S. represented just 2.06 percent of total car sales.

U.S. automakers still remain some way behind their Asian competitors, although sales of the Ford Fusion helped the company set a new record for hybrid sales in 2009. Ford reported hybrid sales up 67 percent on the previous year, a trend which reflects serious consumer interest in American-made hybrid gas-electric vehicles.

Even so, Ford still has some way to go before it catches up with Toyota, which currently sells 18 hybrid passenger vehicles in 80 countries and regions around the world.

As well as the Prius Family, Toyota’s other U.S. hybrid models include versions of the Camry and Highlander, which feature larger displacement applications of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive.

According to Toyotas calculations its total sales of hybrid vehicles globally since 1997 have contributed to a 26 million ton reduction in C02 emissions than would have been emitted by gasoline-powered vehicles of similar size and driving performance.

 * Paul Willis, EarthTechling