Ford wants (big) piece of Toyota's Prius hybrid pie

Feb 11, 2013

Ford Motor Company set an all-time record for hybrid sales in December, selling nearly 8,000.  About half were C-Max sales, and about half, the hybrid version of the Fusion.

The company also beat its previous January record for hybrid sales by more than 500%.

Granted, the total number of hybrid sales for the company isn't much compared to its higher-volume sellers.  Ford sold more than 19,000 non-hybrid Fusions in January, dwarfing the hybrid Fusion sales of 3,043.

But the Dearborn-based automaker is arguably on a path to becoming a true competitor for Toyota, which for more than a decade has worn the crown for U.S. hybrid sales with its popular Prius line of cars.

Ford's hybrid sales were about a third of Toyota's Prius sales in December and January.

For all of 2012, Ford's market share in hybrid vehicles rose 9% - while Toyota's fell by 8%.

Michelle Krebs is an analyst with Edmunds.com. She says Toyota can't afford to be complacent, especially because more and more car companies plan to roll out hybrids.

"You need to be looking over your shoulder and there will be challengers that nibble at your heels," she says.  "And it looks like Ford is the one to do that."

Krebs says the new C-Max was designed and priced to compete head to head with the Prius V, Toyota's largest version in the hybrid family.

"And Ford's also built some good will with consumers.   Consumers are willing to try an American car, and Ford built up good will over not taking the bailout money.  So I think the brand itself has raised its image. And that's helped a lot."

While its hybrid sales are rising, Ford has heard complaints -- as have Hyundai, Kia, and Honda -- that the actual miles per gallon for its most fuel-efficient cars is lower than what's advertised on the EPA sticker.

Consumer Reports says its drivers were unable to achieve the EPA fuel economy numbers for a number of automakers' most fuel-efficient cars, including the Ford Fusion hybrid and the C-Max hybrid.