The Prius vs. the Edge

One gets great gas mileage. One doesn't. But both are zipping out of dealerships. What lesson can we learn from September's auto sales numbers?

Published October 2, 2007 7:31PM (EDT)

Here's a familiar story: U.S. auto sales numbers for September, released on Tuesday.

As compared to September 2006:

  • General Motors: Up, but only a piddling .3 percent.
  • Ford: Down, down, down, down 21 percent.
  • Toyota: Down, 4.4 percent.

Let's break it down some more. Sales of the Toyota Prius notched another strong gain, up 16 percent, totaling 12,494 vehicles. The data confirm what has already been a great year for the Prius. Total sales in 2007 to date were up 76 percent, compared to the same time period in 2006, before the release of the new numbers.

But before giving in to the obvious wailing and moaning over the failure of U.S car companies to offer attractive, fuel-efficient models that consumers might want to buy, How the World Works feels constrained to note that even in the face of bad overall numbers, Ford did record strong, Prius-like growth numbers for at least one new car model, the Ford Edge "crossover" -- a kind of halfway house between a minivan and a full-fledged SUV. September sales growth for the Ford Edge was a whopping 96 percent, totaling 11,623 vehicles.

The Edge started from a smaller base, thus the greater percentage growth. But still: The Edge gets a combined city/highway mileage rating of 18 mpg. The Prius registers 46 mpg.

What's the lesson here? Perhaps gas mileage isn't everything? If it's new, shiny and almost, if not quite, as roomy as a typical SUV, American car buyers will deem it just about as desirable as the similarly priced Prius. Gas prices will have to climb a lot higher to change that pattern.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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