Japan Passes US and Becomes Biggest Market for Hybrid Cars

toyota 2010 prius factory assembly line photo

Photo: Toyota
8% of New Car Sales in Japan Were Hybrids in June
Until June 2009, the USA was the biggest market for hybrid cars. But now Japan has taken the lead, in good part thanks to factors such as higher fuel taxes (gasoline costs about $4.50/gallon) and tax exemption for hybrids. 30,000 hybrids have been sold, a number that represents about 8% of new car sales in the country, and that's despite a 7-month waiting list for the Toyota Prius, the most popular hybrid model. By comparison, 26,205 hybrids have been sold in the US in June, or about 2.6% of new vehicles.
honda insight engine IMA hybrid photo

Photo: Honda
What Will it Be When Recession Ends and Oil Prices Increase More?
HybridCars writes: "In order to meet high demand, Toyota moved workers from various factory locations to its Tsutsumi, Aichi facility, which builds the Prius. Additionally, work shifts have implemented overtime in order to produce 50,000 Priuses a month."

One of the things that hasn't helped would-be US hybrid drivers is that tax incentives there are now more focused on the next generation of plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), but those won't be available until at least late 2010-early 2011 (2011 for the Chevy Volt, 2012 for a Plug-in Toyota, etc). And since fuel costs are relatively low in the US, there's a smaller financial incentive to go for fuel-efficient vehicles.

Keeping Hybrid Cars in Context
Of course hybrid cars are just a stepping stone. They're more fuel efficient and have cleaner tailpipe emissions, but they still burn non-renewable fossil fuels and contribute to global warming. But they are a proving ground for a lot of technology that will be subsequently used in plug-in hybrids and electric cars, and they are sending a market signal to automakers that there is demand for greener transportation. In short: They're worse than a bike or mass transit, but better than a regular gasoline cars (especially if it's a huge unneeded SUV).

Via HybridCars
More Hybrid and Electric Car
The 2010 Toyota Prius Hybrid Got a Bladderectomy
Toyota to Mass-Produce Plug-In Hybrid in 2012... For $48,000!
Brazil to Build Solar-Powered Charging Stations for Electric Vehicles
VW Announces Electric Car for 2013, Warns Against "Electro-Hype"

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