Hybrid Sales Set Record in 2017 As EVs Gain Ground

Hybrid sales, when factoring out Toyota, are less than 3% in all major markets except Japan.

Roger Schreffler

April 17, 2018

4 Min Read
Toyota Prius Prime topselling plugin hybrid in first full year on market
Toyota Prius Prime top-selling plug-in hybrid in first full year on market.

TOKYO – Japanese and South Korean automakers sold a record 2 million hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles in 2017, up 14% over the previous year, with Toyota again the industry’s top producer 20 years and counting.

The results, though positive, were inconclusive as to hybrids’ longer-term prospects as the industry’s move toward fully electric vehicles gathers momentum. This is because hybrid sales, when factoring out Toyota, are small, less than 3%, in all major markets except Japan.

Even in South Korea, home of Hyundai and Kia, hybrids accounted for only 3.5% of new-car demand in 2017.

That said, the two leading Japanese manufacturers, Toyota and Honda, are committed long-term to hybrids. So are Hyundai and Kia, although only Toyota has set clear sales targets: 4.5 million units in 2030, nearly 45% of the global total.

EVs and hydrogen-fuel-cell cars in 2030 will account for about 1 million units, or 10% of global sales, according to Toyota’s business plan.

Of the 2017 total, Toyota sold 1.5 million hybrids in all markets, up 8.4% and accounting for three out of every four Japanese and Korean hybrids sold. It sold no battery-electric vehicles.

Globally, the automaker dwarfs all other brands including Honda, Kia, Ford and Hyundai, ranked two, three, four and five, while maintaining a nearly 50% share of 2017 sales.

All-electrics, despite being heavily subsidized in many countries, represented less than 1% of sales in all major markets – the U.S., Europe, Japan and South Korea,­ except China. And in all major markets except China, hybrid sales far exceeded EVs by factors ranging from to 4.5:1 in the U.S. and Europe to 10:1 in South Korea and nearly 50:1 in Japan.

In emerging markets such India, Southeast Asia and Brazil, sales of electrified vehicles – hybrids and EVs combined – are negligible.

In the Japanese market, hybrids’ share stood at 20% in 2017, down slightly from the previous year in part due to increased demand for 0.66L minicars and mild hybrids with Nissan and Suzuki, virtual nonplayers in the full-hybrid segment, expanding their mild-hybrid lineups.

Nissan sold 174,419 e-Power models in Japan during the year, according to the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Assn. Suzuki sold 73,422 mostly minis adopting its S-ene Charge powertrain technology.

Europe Warming Up to Hybrids More Quickly Than U.S.

Elsewhere in the world, it is a different story.

In the U.S., hybrid sales rose 10% to 2.7% in 2017, according to Wards Intelligence, with Japanese and Korean brands accounting for two out of three units sold. Toyota and Lexus represented half of sales.

In Europe, hybrids, including mild hybrids, grew to 2.9% of the market on sales of 604,392 units. Sales increased 47% over 2016 while share grew marginally from 2.7%, according to ACEA, the European automakers’ group.

Of the European total, Toyota and Lexus sold 406,000 units, two-thirds of demand, of which 184,756 were produced at Toyota Motor Mfg. France and Toyota Motor Mfg. U.K.

Hybrids accounted for 41% of a record 1 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles sold in the region during the year.

Hybrids’ share of all brands in France and the U.K. exceeded the market average in 2017, growing to 3.0% and 3.3%, respectively.

In China, hybrids accounted for less than 1% of new-car sales, an estimated 250,000 units, of which half were PHEVs promoted by the Chinese government. Most of the remainder were Toyotas produced by the Japanese automaker’s GAC Toyota Motor and FAW-Toyota Motor joint ventures.

Among Japanese OEMs, Honda ranked a distant second to Toyota on sales of 255,439 units, up 17% over 2016 levels.

Chinese automakers sold 478,000 EVs along with 198,000 electric buses in 2017.

In Japan, Toyota and Honda together accounted for 97% of hybrid sales which grew to 1.8 million units last year. Both automakers sell hybrids through their Lexus and Acura luxury channels, as well as their main Toyota and Honda outlets.

Of Japanese hybrid sales in 2017, 48% were in Japan, in total 876,000 units, meaning 960,000 were sold overseas. The largest foreign market for all Japanese hybrid brands was Europe, accounting for 412,400 units, or more than 20% of global sales.

Among South Korean OEMs, Hyundai and Kia posted big gains, although starting from a smaller base to a combined 207,018 units. Kia sales grew to 118,574 units, more than doubling the previous year’s total. Hyundai registered nearly 60% growth to 88,535 units. For the affiliated companies, 146,087 units, or 71% of sales, were outside Korea.

Toyota offers 36 hybrid models in its lineup, Honda 16, and Hyundai and Kia five each.


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