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Revved-up recovery


    The Nissan Leaf was one of the top three selling electric vehicles in Hawaii last year. Blake Nakahara, a sales representative at New City Nissan in Kalihi, stands amid Leafs available at the dealership.

    associated press The Chevy Volt, above, the Nissan Leaf and the Mitsubishi i-MiEV were Hawaii's three top-selling electrical vehicles in 2011.

Recovery is a favorite word of Hawaii’s automotive industry, after four years of increasing decline that may have bottomed out in 2009 with sales of only 33,639 vehicles.

Sales rose to 34,019 in 2010 and to 37,086 in 2011, according to the most recent Hawaii Auto Outlook report prepared for the Hawaii Automobile Dealers Association.

The record of 70,268 new vehicle registrations was set in 2005.

Japanese brands collectively have a vise-like grip on market share in Hawaii at 61.1 percent year to date, which is down 2.5 percentage points from a year ago. Domestic brands’ year-to-date market share is up 1.9 percentage points, to 20 percent of the market compared with 18.1 percent a year ago.

Among the top 25 brands, registrations of Acura, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Mitsubishi and Volks­wagen models were up more than 33 percent each through the first five months of the year, the time frame reflected in the report.

Sales of electric and hybrid vehicles also are rising, hitting about 6.5 percent of the market at the end of the first quarter and projected to continue growing.

Servco Automotive reported that sales of Toyota hybrid vehicles, including four Prius models, make up a significant percentage of the company’s sales, up to 15 percent or 20 percent, depending on the month.

Hawaii’s plug-in electric vehicle adoption, estimated at 10 times the national average, is largely due to its leading standing in development of a network of charging stations. As of mid-May, Hawaii had one charging station for every 5,500 residents.

Hawaii’s top-three-selling EVs in 2011 were the Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi i MiEV and the Chevy Volt.

Toyota now has a Prius model that "runs pure EV to a certain period and once the battery charger runs out, it reverts to hybrid mode," said Rick Ching, president of Servco Automotive, which operates auto dealerships but also serves as distributor of Toyota vehicles to Hawaii dealers.

Toyota and sibling Scion remain Hawaii’s favorites, with nearly 27 percent of the statewide market, according to the report.

The brands were on top before the March 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami and have remained dominant despite resulting product shortages.

Customers are loyal to other brands as well, however.

"I think (dealers) have been looking at this road to recovery as right around the corner," said John Uekawa, president of New City Nissan and member of the Dealer Advisory Board.

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