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Hybrids finally find favour with mums, dads

Sparking interest: Hybrid cars such as the petrol-electric Camry appear to have finally switched on with private buyers, the latest car sales data shows.

Toyota says more widespread acceptance of hybrid technology is paying dividends

7 Mar 2013

DIG deep into last month’s car sales, and there is one figure that raises an eyebrow -- the number of hybrid cars sold to private buyers is growing.

Sales of hybrid cars have languished ever since Toyota launched the petrol-electric Prius, and Honda the Insight, in Australia in 2001, despite things advancing to the point where a hybrid model is now built in Australia.

However, so far this year private buyers - mums and dads - have bought almost 600 hybrid cars, with sales charging almost 70 per cent higher than for the same time last year.

But at the same time, interest from hybrid cars’ more traditional customers - businesses and governments - appears to be waning.

The figure is similar for hybrid soft-roaders, with more than 50 driving out of showrooms and into the driveways of private buyers so far this year, a gain of almost 80 per cent.

So has the public perception of hybrid cars in the eyes of home-based buyers finally turned the corner? Toyota spokesman Mike Breen thinks so. He also has noticed the big jump in hybrid sales in what has traditionally been a hard part of the market to crack, and he puts most of the new interest in the fuel sippers down to education -- on both sides of the showroom door.

“More and more they’re (the sales team) finding it is the familiarisation with the technology with the customer,” Mr Breen said.

“It’s also the sales people are becoming a lot more familiar with the technology, so they’re finding it a lot more comfortable now to speak with the customer with authority and understanding.” He said customers were becoming more educated about hybrid technology than ever before.

“Things are coming together to bring about a better relationship (between the car and the buyer), and also we have the Prius C (small car) bringing people into the market at a level where, in the past, we’d not seen them before.

“With Prius V, we’re seeing people come into the market now when they see a car that’s a bit more practical for them, with seven seats and a bit more boot space.” It is also worth noting that Honda recently entered the bargain end of the petrol-electric market with its even cheaper $22,990 Jazz Hybrid.

Making this more attractive, he said, was a zero per cent finance offer on the Camry Hybrid, as well as a low-finance offer on the Prius.

“They (the sales staff) said more and more it was the familiarisation with the technology with the customer, whilst the incentive was there to look at the car with the finance deal.” Mr Breen said while government and businesses were quick to adapt to hybrid technology, private buyers had traditionally been hard to chase.

“It’s always been a challenge,” he said. “I think people are now coming to understand that the technology is here to stay and you’ve got Ferrari announcing they’ve got one (a hybrid) at the Geneva motor show.

“With things like this I think it is now becoming a bit more acceptable to the private buyer.

“In the early stages, people thought it was one of those interim technologies that would be here for a while and then move on to the next level,” Mr Breen said.

“But now people are understanding after 10 or 12 years that it is one of the technologies that will be used in the future.” Hybrid sales now account for three in every 10 Camry sales overall, Mr Breen said.

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