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Market Insight: Hybrids owners not ‘for life’: study

Hy point: The Toyota Prius is America’s biggest-selling hybrid, but findings from a new study indicate most buyers opt for a non-hybrid model when returning to the market.

US Polk study finds most hybrid owners don’t buy another one when back in the market

Market Insight logo13 Apr 2012

A NEW study in the United States has found that 65 per cent of hybrid vehicle owners chose not to stick with hybrid power when they returned to the new-car market in 2011.

And when owners of the top-selling Toyota Prius were left out of the equation, report author Polk found the repurchase rate among other hybrid buyers dropped to below 25 per cent.

In studying hybrid segment loyalty in the US from 2008 to 2011, the automotive information and marketing firm found the loyalty rate was 35.2 per cent in 2008 and climbed to 39.6 per cent in 2009, only to fall to 38.9 per cent in 2010 and further to 35.0 per cent last year.

While these statistics indicate the difficulty car manufacturers face in hanging on to hybrid customers, who are forced to spend more on the alternative powertrain than an equivalent-sized (and increasingly economical) conventional-engine model, the Polk study also found many hybrid owners maintain brand loyalty when returning to the market.

Polk says 60 per cent of Toyota hybrid owners who returned to the market last year ended up purchasing another Toyota-brand vehicle.

And although a clear majority of Toyota hybrid owners jumped off the hybrid wagon altogether, 41 per cent stuck with petrol-electric power – be it in the form of the Prius, Camry Hybrid, Highlander (Kluger) Hybrid or a hybrid from another brand.

128 center imageFrom top: Toyota Prius C and Camry Hybrid, Honda CR-Z and Insight.

By comparison, a smaller majority of Honda hybrid owners remained with the Honda brand – 52 per cent – but just under 20 per cent of this same owner group bought another hybrid vehicle from any brand.

According to Polk, hybrid vehicles in the US last year accounted for 2.4 per cent of the overall new-vehicle market – equivalent to about 307,000 sales – which was down from a high of 2.9 per cent in 2008. This comes despite the choice of hybrid cars more than doubling since 2007.

Polk’s research also indicates that volatility in fuel prices in the US between 2008 and 2011, which saw prices at the bowser virtually double from less than $US2 a gallon to almost $US4/gallon, had “little impact” on hybrid segment loyalty.

And it found that consumers in traditionally ‘green’ markets such as Los Angeles, San Diego, Portland and Seattle were no more loyal to hybrid vehicles than the nation at large.

In Australia, hybrid vehicles represented just 0.87 per cent of the 2011 new-vehicle market, with the 8820 new registrations recorded last year down on 2010’s tally of 9784 units.

Toyota’s Australian-built Camry Hybrid remains the hybrid sales leader in Australia, accumulating 5205 sales last year – half number Toyota was banking on producing per annum from the vehicle’s launch in 2010.

Meanwhile, the 822 Prius sales last year marked a 49 per cent decline, despite a $5000 price cut to the entry-level model in April 2011.

Undeterred, Toyota Australia is anticipating a big turnaround in 2012 and has branded this the ‘Year of the Hybrid’ with the launch of the new-generation Camry Hybrid and light-sized Prius C, further cuts to the regular Prius range and the introduction next month of the all-new seven-seat Prius V people-mover.

A number of other mainstream brands will launch new hybrid cars over the next couple of years, with Honda in particular looking to bolster its current hybrid range (comprising Insight, CR-Z and Civic) with petrol-electric Jazz and Accord models.

Nissan is also understood to be working on a case to bring a hybrid version of its Altima here late next year, which would rival the Camry and Accord, while other brands to watch out for include Holden, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Peugeot and Volvo.

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