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Going electric? Hybrid and electric cars set sales records in August

Inch by inch, hybrids and electric cars are gaining ground in the U.S. auto market.

Automakers sold 54,855 hybrids in August, reports Autodata Corp., a sales tracking firm. That is a 32% gain from the same month a year earlier and an industry record for any prior month.

Sales of rechargeable cars, which include plug-in hybrids such as the Chevrolet Volt and electric-only vehicles such as the Tesla Model S and Nissan Leaf, also set a record last month, climbing to 11,392, a 147% gain from the same period a year ago.

Auto information company Edmunds.com says electric cars make up just 0.4% of the U.S. auto market now, but will grow to 1.5% by 2017.

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Together, hybrids and electric cars accounted for about 4% of U.S. auto sales last month.

Several factors are behind that growth.

Ford has joined Toyota as a big seller of hybrids. The head-to-head competition between the two automakers is catching the attention of consumers.

Expect the market to take another leap when the hybrid version of the Honda Accord – which is rated at 50 miles per gallon in city driving – reaches showrooms in the coming months.

The gasoline version of the vehicle has a huge following that has made the Accord one of the best-selling passenger cars in America.

“It's safe to say that we expect the Accord Hybrid to be the best-selling hybrid in our lineup in the near future,” said Honda spokesman Chris Martin.

The Tesla Model S is another contributor. Tesla Motors is selling almost 2,000 of the expensive luxury electric cars a month after slowly ramping up production and sales last year and into this year.

Price cuts for electric cars such as the Leaf and plug-ins such as the Volt also have stimulated sales.

The average transaction price for a Nissan Leaf has fallen by almost $5,000 to $30,970 over the past year, according to auto price information company Kelley Blue Book. The average price of the plug-in version of the Toyota Prius has dipped more than $1,000 to $32,564 over the same time period.

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