Once-Struggling Cars That Are Suddenly Hot Sellers

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Chrysler / AP

The 2012 Fiat Cabrio has been selling well lately.

Fiat and Toyota, both of which had a rough sales year in 2011, can’t seem to produce cars fast enough for buyers lately. One much-hyped plug-in vehicle is also faring better in the marketplace in 2012. After struggling to attract buyers last year, these vehicles have been transformed in recent months into hot sellers.

When the adorable Italian car was reintroduced to the U.S. market in 2011, sales were less than impressive, at least partly the result of too-few dealerships being prepared to sell them. Lately, it’s a different story. Fiat “studios,” as the showrooms are called, are amply prepared to move the vehicles, and they’re experiencing great success doing just that. They sold over 4,000 Fiats in May, more than double the number a year ago (1,759 units in May 2011). During the first five months of 2012, a total of 16,702 Fiats have been sold.

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Edmunds’ Inside Line reports that the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, the high-end model with racing stripes and a starting price roughly $7,000 more than the base, is “virtually sold out” just six weeks after it went on the market. As a result, Chrysler—which has been booming for months after nearly going out of business a few years ago—plans on boosting production of the 2013 Abarth, which dealers will begin accepting orders for in late summer.

The Japanese automaker had a rough 2011. The history-making tsunami caused a production slowdown, resulting in Toyota (and Honda too) being one of the few manufacturers to experience a decline in sales for much of last year. Even though a sales rebound was inevitable for 2012, Toyota’s sales have blown away forecasts so far.

In Toyota’s recent sales conference call, Toyota, Lexus, and Scion’s sales numbers in May were up 87% compared to May 2011. Collectively, these brands were selling 7,800 cars and trucks per day, a rate not seen since the days of “Cash for Clunkers.” American Honda, by contrast, saw sales rise “just” 47% compared to a year earlier, per Edmunds. Lexus sales were up 74% in May, according to Bloomberg. Camry sales were up 110% in May, and 43% for the year. And no Toyota vehicle is booming quite like the Prius, which has expanded its lineup and seems to have shrugged off its “niche car” stigma. Prius sales were up 210% in May, are up 73% so far in 2012.

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Chevy Volt
Earlier this year, lackluster sales of the plug-in hybrid Volt caused GM to decide to slow production of the vehicle this summer. And though the automaker’s earlier predictions that 45,000 Volts would be sold in 2012 still seems laughable, the Volt has been faring well recently. For the first five months of the year, 7,000 Volts have sold, which is almost as many as Chevy moved in all of 2011.

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What’s more, the Volt seems to be winning the head-to-head competition between it and the other widely available electrified vehicle, the Nissan Leaf. The Leaf—which operates only via plug-in, while the Volt uses electricity and a gas-powered engine—experienced a sales decline of 55% in May, according to the Detroit News. Just 510 Leafs were sold in the month. Meanwhile, consumers purchased 1,680 Volts last month, a 250% increase compared to May 2011.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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