By JIM PARKER

The Post and Courier

The figure emerged as a sidelight to a diesel car sales report and came with little supporting explanation, but it stands out anyway.

Here goes: South Carolina ranked first of all 50 states and District of Columbia in the rate of increase in hybrid car and SUV sales, 2010-2012. Hybrid vehicle registrations jumped 50 percent in those three years, according to statistics from respected automotive researcher R.L. Polk & Co. complied for the Diesel Technology Forum.

The forum released the hybrid totals this spring as part of a broader look at clean diesel vehicles, which according to the group are showing strong sales increases in the U.S.

“This new data of total national vehicle registrations coincides with what we’ve been seeing in the monthly auto sales — clean diesel and hybrid cars are showing consistent and impressive growth patterns in the U.S.,” said Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum. The group is described as a non-profit national organization dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of diesel engines, fuel and technology.

According to the R.L. Polk figures, South Carolina bested three nearby states in the growth rate for hybrids. Tennessee posted a 48 percent surge, and Kentucky and Mississippi each saw 46 percent rises.

The boost in hybrid car registrations in the Palmetto state runs counter to a common belief that high gas prices drive sales of fuel efficient cars. Typically, South Carolina sports some of the lowest fuel prices in the country.

More than 2.2 million hybrid vehicles are on the road in the U.S., according to the diesel forum. Hybrid car and SUV registrations jumped 33.6 percent from 2010 to last year nationwide.

Spurred by fossil-fuel pollution concerns, car were developed to run on gas with assistance from an alternative fuel such as electricity: thus, the name hybrid.

A few hybrid models such as the Toyota Prius offer a distinct body style and are only available as gas-electric vehicles or plug-ins. The popular Prius remains a top seller since being introduced more than a decade ago: among its converts is Charleston Mayor Joe Riley.

At the same time, many hybrids are sister models of gas-only cars and don’t vary in looks other than green or blue markings by the nameplates and other places. Examples include the Honda Civic and Ford Focus.

According to the diesel forum, there are 46 hybrid models for sale in the U.S. and 27 diesel models on the market. By price, hybrids range from the $18,600 Honda Insight to the $119,910 Lexus LS 600h L sedan.

Clean diesel, developed in the past decade or so, is considered at least comparable to gasoline in terms of pollution controls. Diesel vehicles offer extra benefits such as longer lasting engines. According the forum, diesel car registrations climbed 24.3 percent from 2010 to 2012.

Hybrid sales nationwide average 2.87 percent of all car sales but the shares vary widely by metro area, according to figures reported in Forbes magazine earlier this year.

The top market for hybrids is San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose at 9.4 percent of all sales. The leading 15 metro areas are confined to California, Oregon, Washington and Arizona.

By contrast, the cities with the lowest percentages primarily are in Texas and surrounding states. According to cargurus.com, Tulsa, Okla., has the lowest share of hybrids at 0.58 percent followed by Midland-Odessa, Texas; and Lake Charles, La. Among the few hybrid-scarce metro areas outside of oil producing states is Greenville-Greenwood, which placed seventh lowest at 0.80 percent.

Here’s a look at the leading states for hybrid sales growth and total number of hybrids, according to R.L. Polk and the Diesel Technology Forum:

•Fastest Growth Hybrid Cars, SUVs (2010-12)•

South Carolina – up 50 percent

Tennessee – up 48 percent

Kentucky – up 46 percent

Mississippi – up 46 percent

•2012 Total Hybrid Cars, SUVs, Pickups, Vans•

California – 548,199

Florida – 122,912

Texas – 121,944

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.