The price of gas is rapidly approaching the $5 mark and international tensions are strained over the acquisition and control of oil. These concerns, and others, are leading many motorists to consider buying hybrid and electric cars. However, a new study on hybrid loyalty shows that most first-time hybrid owners don’t buy a second.
Two-thirds disloyal to segment
The new study from R.L. Polk looked at hybrid sales data across the country for 2011. Although Prius drivers did demonstrate loyalty for their make, that was not the case with the hybrid segment as a whole.
The study found that about a third — 35 percent — of first-time hybrid buyers return for a second hybrid at trade-in time. However, if returning Prius-buyers were factored out of the ranking, it would plummet to only 22 percent.
Brand loyalty stronger than hybrid loyalty
Prius owners were the most committed to hybrid technology. Of them, 60 percent bought another Toyota. Forty-one percent of former Prius owners chose to make it a hybrid — from any automaker, not just Toyota — for the second time. Honda showed a similar brand-loyalty, with 52 percent returning for Honda cars and 20 percent deciding to buy another hybrid of any make.
So, concluded Polk director Brad Smith, having hybrids in an automaker’s lineup can increase attention from first-time buyers:
“Having a hybrid in the product lineup can certainly give a brand a competitive edge when it comes to attracting new customers. The repurchase rates of hybrid vehicles are an indication that consumers are continuing to seek alternative solutions to high fuel prices.”
The selection of hybrid models available to the U.S. public has more than doubled since 2007, says the Sacramento Bee.
Hybrid sales decreased since 2008
However, the Polk study also said hybrid sales have decreased in the last few years. The sales of hybrids reached a peak in 2008, with hybrids commanding 2.9 percent of all U.S. auto purchases. By 2011, that number had shrunk to 2.4 percent.
The study found that, even in metropolitan areas areas known for an environmental consciousness, the loyalty rate for hybrid ownership was about the same as the national figures. Those cities include Seattle, Los Angeles, Portland, Ore., and Dan Diego.
U.S. public not adopting hybrid
The gas savings just aren’t enough incentive to entice the car-buying public, given the challenges and the higher cost of the hybrid segment, says Lacey Plache, chief economist for Edmunds:
“The lineup of alternate-drive vehicles and their premium price points just aren’t appealing enough to consumers to give the segment the momentum it once anticipated, especially given the growing strength of fuel economy among compact and midsize competitors. For EVs (Electric Vehicles) and PHEVs (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles) in particular, certain obstacles — including consumer unease with unfamiliar technology and the lack of an adequate recharging infrastructure — will need to be overcome before sales increase.”