[Editor's note: NRDC's Roland Hwang writes that better fuel economy is boosting car sales. A new report released Thursday by Citi Investment Research and Analysis and Ceres backs him up: It estimates that higher MPG requirements will hike U.S. automakers profits by 6.3 percent, or $2.44 billion, in 2020.]
When it comes to consumer demand for fuel-efficient cars, there is no denying the sales data and the automakers' own words. The bottom line, according to Mark Fields, president of Ford, is that "people want vehicles that get better fuel economy." And Bob Carter, Toyota vice president of U.S. sales, said: "Fuel economy remains a top purchase consideration among consumers."
With gasoline prices over $4 gallon in many parts of the country, consumers are flocking to fuel-efficient cars and giving a jolt to sales of electric cars. And thanks to stronger standards, the U.S. automakers are much better prepared, and indeed thriving, in the light of the latest surge in oil prices.
In March, the Detroit three all posted sales gains: GM 12 percent, Ford 5 percent and Chrysler 34 percent. And in their own words, fuel-efficiency is driving these sales increases.
GM sales of fuel-efficient vehicles hits record
March was a record month for sales of high fuel-economy vehicles for General Motors.
GM said Monday that its 12 vehicles getting 30 mpg or better on the highway had combined U.S. sales of 100,000 or more for March -- a new record for the company. According to Mark Reuss, president of GM North America:
"Three years ago, about 16 percent of the vehicles GM sold achieved at least 30 mpg on the highway. Today, that number is about 40 percent and we have more new fuel-economy leaders on the way."
Ford says fuel efficiency is "spurring" new sales
Like G, Ford is seeing the benefits of fuel-efficient cars being translated into more sales. According to Mark Fields:
"Higher gas prices are spurring people to buy vehicles because they want vehicles that get better fuel economy."
Chrysler "high fuel prices encouraging" sales
Chrysler is back on its feet with new models that are more fuel-efficient than their previous generation. In Chrysler's own words, Reid Bigland, CEO of the Dodge Brand and head of U.S. sales says:
"The combination of credit availability, an improving economy, pent-up demand and even high fuel prices encouraging people to acquire newer, more fuel-efficient vehicles are all helping to drive industry sales. Thanks to these factors, we experienced sales strength across the board.
Hybrids and electric vehicles sales jump
Toyota sold a whopping 28,711 Prius hybrids in March, another monthly historical record. Fully prepared to meet the demand for the hybrid model that was once considered fringe, Toyota sells four different Prius models: the original hatchback, a wagon version, a subcompact, and a plug-in version.
Take note: Prius outsold the popular affordable Corolla model in March. Given brisk first-quarter sales, Toyota on track to meet a goal of 220,000 Prius sales in the U.S. this year, up from 136,463 in 2011