Trendwatch: September heralds Ford entry in two-man hybrid race

While hybrid car sales have been dominated thus far by Japanese automakers, the breath of Ford on Honda's neck in the US -- according to September sales data relased October 15 by Autodata -- shows that half-green technology is no longer a Japanese speciality.

The hybrid auto world essentially consists of the US and Japan, with the legendary Toyota Prius failing to even crack the top 10 last month in diesel-happy Europe, according to September sales data released October 16 by car industry website Jato.  

Toyota dominates hybrid sales -- the company sells almost twice as many hybrids in the US as all other automakers combined. In Japan, the backlog of Prius is so long it is unlikely a Japanese consumer putting down money on a Prius today will receive his car before May 2010, according to the manufacturer.

The Prius has settled into five straight months of being the most popular new car, non-hybrids included, in Japan. The Honda Insight is the second-most popular hybrid in Japan and fifth-best seller in September overall. Combined with the fact that Japan imports very few cars when compared with the US, it is clear that these two companies are firmly entrenched in Japan.

But in the free-market-loving country across the Pacific, Ford sold only 4,000 fewer hybrids than Honda in September, a significant achievement for America's "Blue Oval".

Thanks to the popularity of the Ford Escape and Ford Fusion hybrids, the Detroit automaker's hybrid sales are up 73 percent from last year while Honda's have grown only 8 percent. It is possible that Ford could become the number two hybrid car seller in the US by the end of this year if these sales trends continue.

With two entries apiece, Toyota, Honda and Ford now sell the top 6 hybrid models in the US led by Toyota's Prius and Camry hybrids, followed by Honda's Insight and Civic hybrids, and Ford's Escape and Fusion hybrids. Embattled automaker GM is running a distant fourth in the US hybrid race, selling a mere half of Ford's total.

The only bad news for Toyota when it comes to hybrids is actually pretty significant: Prius sales are down 19.4 percent in the US this year as they finally face some competition. 

Ford's introduction of its Mercury Milan hybrid this Fall may mean another addition to the expanding panopoly of competition undercutting Toyota's lead.

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