Are Hybrid Cars Declining in Popularity?
A recent study by research company Polk has revealed that hybrid cars, believed to be the way of the future, have suffered a decline in popularity over recent years. The survey reveals that a large percentage of hybrid car buyers are unlikely to purchase another after their experiences with the economical and environmentally friendly cars. The number of hybrid models on the market has doubled since 2007, but could it be that car companies have over-committed in a niche that was once believed to be the future of the automobile industry?
Hybrid car sales make up a small percentage of overall sales in the United States – around 2.4% last year, down from their peak of 2.9% in 2008. While this number is low overall, at one stage a few years ago it was believed that hybrid cars would continue to grow in popularity and would one day represent a large portion of the new and used car market. But as the research points out, this just hasn’t been the case and the numbers are actually going backwards.
So what’s causing the decline in popularity? A number of factors are believed to be contributing, including volatile fuel prices and conventional cars becoming more fuel efficient while remaining much more affordable than a hybrid. There are also issues around the ease of recharging plug-in hybrids – a lack of infrastructure and lagging technology makes it time-consuming and inconvenient for many hybrid car owners to make full use of the electric aspect of their cars by being able to recharge them quickly and easily.
The one saving grace for makers of hybrid cars to emerge from the study is that they are a good way to inspire brand loyalty in customers. While loyalty to hybrid cars was only 35 percent, 60 percent of people who had purchased a Toyota hybrid such as a Prius stayed with Toyota for their next car purchase. Likewise with Honda – buyers of a Honda hybrid purchased their next car with that maker in 52% of cases.
A spokesman for Polk Research, Brad Smith, said that “having a hybrid in the product line up can certainly give a brand a competitive edge when it comes to attracting new customers, [but] the repurchase rates of hybrid vehicles are an indication that consumers are continuing to seek alternative solutions to high fuel prices."
The Toyota Prius is by far the most well-known and highest selling hybrid on the market, and is the one car that seems to buck the trend in the overall results of the survey. If Prius owners weren’t included in the survey, the 35% of repeat hybrid buyers would drop to below 25%.
An interesting fact to come out of the survey results is that hybrid owners in areas seen as being eco-friendly such as Los Angeles, San Diego, Portland, and Seattle are in fact no more loyal to hybrids than the nation at large.