SUVs Sales Increase in California While Car Sales Drop—Except Those with Plugs

It's a classic paradox, observes David R. Baker for the San Francisco Chronicle: bigger, thirstier vehicles sell better than smaller, more efficient ones, while the market for battery-powered vehicles, especially Teslas, also increases.
August 24, 2018, 12pm PDT | Irvin Dawid
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A trend spotted almost a decade ago continues unabated. According to sales data released Tuesday by the California New Car Dealers AssociationCalifornia light truck registrations, a category which includes sport utility vehicles, increased by 5.6 percent for the first six months of the year, "while passenger car registrations continued to fall, 10.1 percent below this time last year."

While this is on trend with national behavior, the numbers differ slightly, with US light truck sales increasing by 7.7 percent and US passenger car sales falling by 12.1 percent.

"While the market continues to shift in types of vehicles sold, we are experiencing consistent buyer behavior geared more towards larger vehicles. This increased demand continues to demonstrate consumer interest in purchasing larger, more convenient, family friendly vehicles to meet their transportation needs,” said California New Car Dealers Association Chairperson, Taz Harvey of Dublin Mazda.

As posted Tuesday, "[s]ales of electric cars in the United States are up 40 percent from this same time last year," with half the sales occurring in California.

"Registrations of electric and plug-in hybrid cars are growing quickly, together accounting for more than 6 percent of [California's] new car market," reports David R. Baker"Nearly as many electric cars were registered in the first half of 2018 — 33,015 — as in all of 2015."

And no company has benefited from that shift more than California’s home-grown electric automaker, Tesla.

According to data compiled for the association by IHS Markit, the number of new Teslas registered in California during the year’s first half jumped 139.4 percent, a bigger rise than any other automaker. That included 4,993 Model S sedans, 3,962 Model X SUVs and 12,674 of the company’s new Model 3 sedan.

Although Tesla has struggled to rev up Model 3 production at its Fremont factory, the car now outsells all other vehicles in its class within California.

That would be just the Model 3, referring to the "Near Luxury Car category," clarifies Mark Kane of Inside EVs, who reports on the same data from the dealers association.

Californians love their big vehicles (as do the majority of American auto consumers)

While the increase in electric vehicle sales is good news for the environment, the increase in light truck sales, which includes SUVs, vans and pickups, is partly responsible for greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector having increased in 2015 and 2016 in California while overall emissions continued to drop.

Baker noted that total vehicle sales for the first six months of the year dropped 2.2 percent, to 1,004,587." He also broke down sales in the light truck sector:

Sport utility vehicles accounted for 39 percent of all new registrations in California during the year’s first half, according to the dealers association. At this point last year, they represented 35 percent of the market. The market share for pickups and vans, together, held steady at 15 percent.

Electric and hybrid vehicle sales data

According to the dealers association, "combined hybrid and electric market share overall continues to increase, making up 10.2 percent of total new vehicle registrations. Looking closer at the data, plug ins and electric vehicle sales are both up more than 1.4 percent combined, while hybrid sales continued their long downward trend and are down .4 percent from last year."

More sales data is available from the California Auto Outlook Second Quarter 2018 [pdf].

It's not just Americans that love their big vehicles – it's an international trend as well. More posts on the growing popularity of SUVs can found under the tag, SUV Sales.

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Published on Tuesday, August 21, 2018 in San Francisco Chronicle
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