Increased pain at the pump appears to have pushed U.S. consumers toward fuel-sipping hybrid-electric vehicles in April.

The hybrid segment saw sales rise 7.5% in the month, with a hefty 141.9% surge in light trucks, according to Ward’s data, while passenger-car sales fell 24.7%.

Related document: <i>Ward's</i> U.S. Hybrid Light Vehicle Sales

Ford Motor Co.’s Escape Hybrid cross/utility vehicle experienced the biggest jump in sales, up 85% to 3,309 units vs. year-ago and more than double the 1,441 units sold in March.

Ford credits both its Kermit the Frog eco-friendly advertising campaign, which debuted in early February, as well as a push by dealers to make consumers aware of tax incentives available for purchasing a hybrid.

The auto makers says it also drew buyers with its 0% financing for 60 months scheme on the Escape Hybrid and Mercury Mariner Hybrid twin.

Adding Mariner Hybrid sales, Ford sold a total of 3,420 HEVs in the U.S. in April.

“Our sales record is the product of an integrated marketing campaign to raise awareness for Ford’s hybrid vehicles,” Barry Redler, SUV group marketing manager, says.

Meanwhile, hybrid-leader Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. saw year-on-year sales of its Prius HEV fall for the third-straight month, to 8,234 units. Toyota blames issues of supply and demand for the decrease in deliveries.

Toyota’s hybrid Lexus RX 400h and Toyota Highlander Hybrid CUVs had mixed results. The less pricey Highlander Hybrid sold 3,768 units in April for its best-ever monthly result since the vehicle went on sale in June 2005. But RX 400h deliveries slipped 0.5% compared with year-ago, when the vehicle first debuted.

Toyota says it sold 141 new Lexus GS 450h sedans and 86 ’07 Camry Hybrids in the month.

American Honda Motor Co. Inc.’s Accord Hybrid V-6 sedan sales plunged a whopping 68.5% in April to 614 units. A company spokesman tells Ward’s strong year-ago comparisons are to blame for the marked difference.

“Last year was (the car’s) first four months on the market,” he says. “It was hot out of the chute, and there was a lot of pent-up demand. And so it set sales numbers that would be difficult to repeat.”

The new Civic Hybrid, which had been showing strength in the market, slipped 7.5% from prior-year.

The spokesman says all Honda hybrid-vehicle inventories are low at the moment. However, the aging Insight, a typical under-performer, saw sales rise 26.9%, possibly helping secure its place in Honda’s U.S. lineup a bit longer.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com