But several months later, with gas back down to around $2 a gallon, sales of hybrids are stuck in neutral and carmakers are staring at growing stockpiles of seemingly unmovable merchandise, reports the Los Angeles Times.
Car sales are flagging anyway in a battered economy, but things are particularly bad for hybrids. Sales are down almost 66 percent from last April, when the segment's popularity peaked, reports the Times. Earlier this month, GM reported an overall drop in annual sales of 53 percent; Ford - 48 percent; Chrysler - 43 percent.
Over the summer, U.S. Toyota dealers could barely keep up with demand, with dealers running through their stock of Prius models in two days and many charging thousands above sticker prices, the paper reports.
But now those same dealers have 80 days worth of hybrids filling up their lots and have to offer financial incentives – like a $500 factory rebates – to move what they can, according to the paper.
But if the carmakers aren't appealing to customers, who are they really targeting?
"The automakers are in the situation of needing to pacify politicians that are in the position to bail them out with expensive fuel-efficient cars," Rebecca Lindland, auto analyst with IHS Global Insight, told the Times. "But shouldn't it be more about satisfying the needs of the American consumer?"
Auto companies may have no choice than to hope consumer sentiment turns their way, though, as they've planned to barrage the market with hybrid choices – Ford plans a "family" of hybrids by 2012, Chrysler promises eight new hybrid or electric vehicles by 2015 and GM says 26 of its 33 models won't use gas by 2015, reports the paper.