Pony Cars Outsold Hybrids in May, But Don't Expect it to Last

With gas near the $4 per gallon mark, you’d think that sales of pony cars like the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger would be at record lows. After all, their V-8 engines aren’t known for fuel economy, and even their V-6 models fall short of matching the fuel economy of hybrid or compact cars. Are dealers willing to entertain any reasonable offer on pony car inventory?

No, says USA Today, who reports that American snapped up more Mustangs, Camaros and Challengers in the month of May than they did hybrids. Muscle cars accounted for 19,476 unit sales in May, while hybrids accounted for just 17,852 unit sales last month.

Is the jury in? Are Americans forgoing the benefits of better fuel economy and reduced emissions in favor of horsepower and the ability to turn expensive rear tires into smoke?

Not exactly, since what the USA Today article glosses over is the impact of the March disasters in Japan. Toyota’s Prius has historically been the best-selling hybrid in America, and Toyota sold 12,477 Prius models in April. That’s down 4.3 percent from April of 2010, but still on par with Toyota’s total passenger car sales, which were down 6.5 percent for the month.

Fast forward to May, when Toyota sold just 6,924 Prius models, as compared to 14,248 in May of 2010. That’s a decrease of 47 percent, attributable directly to supply shortages stemming from the Japan earthquake and tsunami. If we assume May sales would have matched April sales at 4.3 percent lower than previous year, Toyota would have sold 13,635 Prius units in May. Hybrid sales would then have been 31,487 units, positively dwarfing pony car sales.

While it's technically accurate to say that pony cars outsold hybrids last month, that certainly isn't an indication of a trend away from fuel-efficient cars. When the Prius is back in the inventory pipeline, expect it to return to normal unit sales, driving hybrid sales numbers higher.

That’s the problem with numbers and statistics; unless they’re in context, they can be used to spin the data any way you want.

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