Hybrids Surge on Cars.com, Trucks Suffer

Yesterday, we illustrated how higher gas prices can affect consumer preferences on Cars.com and ultimately real-world car purchases. After analyzing the last 30 days of search data, we see that hybrids and fuel-efficient vehicles are the biggest beneficiaries of the sudden rise in gas prices, and heavy-duty trucks, large luxury cars and SUVs are the biggest losers.

Out of the 15 vehicles that have seen the most improved search traffic over the last 30 days, eight are hybrids.

The Hyundai Sonata Hybrid saw an 1,836% increase in traffic month-over-month on Cars.com. The Sonata Hybrid originally hit dealerships in January, according to Hyundai spokesman Miles Johnson, but the car was delayed soon thereafter over impending legislation requiring noisemakers in hybrids and electric vehicles. Miles says the Sonata Hybrid has a noisemaker, but owners have the option to turn it off, which is similar to the system in the Nissan Leaf. Hyundai modified the system in the hybrid so it doesn’t have an option to turn off the virtual engine sound anymore. The car went back on sale sometime this week.

That makes it the most-improved model on our website. Other hybrids such as the Lexus CT 200h, Honda Insight, Lexus HS 250h, Toyota Prius, Nissan Altima Hybrid, Honda Civic Hybrid and Lincoln MKZ Hybrid all saw at least 50% increases in search traffic over last month; the new CT 200h saw a near 400% increase.

The CT 200h went on sale March 1 — coupled with an aggressive marketing campaign — so we’re not surprised to see the piqued interest for that vehicle. We are interested to see how the slow-selling Insight (+68%) and HS 250h (+58%) fare in this month’s sales data. Both Honda and Lexus are offering attractive leasing rates this month for the hybrids.

The new 2012 Ford Focus also saw a big jump, with traffic up 61%.

In terms of sheer number of searches, the 2011 Dodge Charger was the most-searched vehicle on our top 15 list. Traffic improved by 75% on that vehicle. In terms of actual sales, the Charger is having a good month so far. “Dodge Charger sales so far this month are up significantly compared to March 2010,” said Chrysler spokesman Ralph Kisiel. “We are getting the all-new 2011 Charger to our dealers in greater volume, but the production and distribution of this model is still in ramp up.”

Cars that saw a decrease in interest included the Audi A8 and Hyundai Equus. The Audi A8 isn’t surprising; the vehicle was riding a wave of buzz from its Super Bowl ads in February.

The Chevrolet Silverado HD, GMC Sierra HD and Ram Truck series saw double-digit decreases in traffic, too.

Data compares the last 30 days, as of March 13, to the previous 30 days of Cars.com traffic.



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