Are Hybrids Here to Stay?

Now that Hybrids have been in the wild for over a decade, we can start to better understand how satisfied the owners of these fuel efficient vehicles are.

Honda Insight, Toyota Prius, Ford Fusion, Kia Optima, GMC Sierra… just a few of the many hybrids on the market. These days, nearly every brand offers a hybrid, electric, or extremely fuel-efficient car of some kind. Hybrids have been in demand for years with owners from celebrities to everyday folks like you and me talking up their hybrids, claiming they’ll never go back to a regular vehicle.

But a recent study shows that the majority of hybrid owners don’t purchase a second hybrid when it comes time for a new car. Throughout the course of 2011, R.L. Polk, an automotive research company, looked at the cars hybrid owners bought when trading in said hybrid.

Toyota Prius

Only thirty-five percent went for another.

Karen Glass, Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts at Seton Hill University and owner of a Honda Insight, was at first baffled by the study. “I love my hybrid,” she says and shares her love for the car with her friends regularly. She’s even considering replacing her second family car with a hybrid in a few years.

But as we spoke and broke down the details of the study, we found her concerns match those of many hybrid owners when looking at purchasing their first or a replacement hybrid.

Glass and her husband didn’t set out to purchase a hybrid. They narrowed their choices to about five vehicles based on purchase price and miles per gallon. They landed in an Insight, which was slightly above their ideal budget, but would pay for itself quickly in fuel savings.

She and her husband do mostly city driving, where miles per gallon savings can be the highest when looking at hybrid versus other fuel-efficient cars in the same class. The couple also enjoys the roominess of the Insight and fuel savings on road trips with their ten year old son – he can ride comfortably in the back and they can save some cash for fun splurges on their trips.

Glass is among the many who purchase hybrids with cost in mind. According to the Polk study, in the third quarter of 2011, gas prices dipped and so did the repurchase rate: thirty-one percent. When gas prices spiked in the final quarter, the repurchase rate of hybrids jumped to forty percent.

Polk also broke down repurchase rates by location and brand. Floridians were most likely to purchase a second hybrid, while those in eco-friendly markets like Seattle were surprisingly no more likely than the rest of us to move into another.

Prius owners were more likely than others to purchase another hybrid, or at least stay with the Toyota brand. According to Polk, sixty percent of Prius owners chose another Toyota. Forty-one percent of Prius owners chose another hybrid, Prius or otherwise, which proved to be the highest hybrid repurchase rate determined by brand.

Although repurchase rates aren’t stellar, hybrids and fuel-efficient cars are here to stay awhile. With gas prices on the rise, buyers continue to look for the most fuel-efficient models.

52,000 gas-electric hybrid and electric cars sold in March of this year, which is up from 34,000 in March 2011. Hybrids accounted for 3.64 percent of US auto sales for March – the highest percent of the market hybrids have ever held. Of hybrids sold in March, the Toyota Prius hatchback was the most popular with over 18,000 sold.

Many new hybrids are in the works across the board and even Ferrari is getting in on the action: the company just filed patents for hybrid technology, an early step in getting a hybrid on the road.

As much as Glass loves her Insight, she admits she’ll use the same criteria as last time to choose her next car and wouldn’t rule out a fuel-efficient gasoline-only vehicle. “It would be interesting to ask me this question in 8 or 9 years when I’m looking to replace the Insight,” said Glass. Who knows what our options will be by then?

Do you own a hybrid? If so, would you buy another one? If not, would you ever consider one?