One is enough: study finds that most hybrid buyers don’t purchase another


While many hybrid owners may consider themselves an eco-conscious bunch, apparently they’re not a very loyal bunch when it comes to those gas-sipping cars of theirs – at least not according to a recent study by automotive analysis firm, Polk.

Apart from Toyota Prius owners, the study conducted by Polk — focusing on hybrid loyalty analysis for 2011 — found that that only 35 percent of people who purchased a hybrid car purchased another one last year — leaving a relatively large percentage of people to seek, ahem, “greener pastures.”

On the other hand, the study found that previous owners of the popular Toyota Prius — and Toyota owners in general – to be the most loyal. Toyota managed to retain sixty percent of previous hybrid owners, with customers that didn’t opt for another hybrid model still sticking with the brand. Polk also found that 41 percent of Toyota hybrid owners bought another hybrid (regardless of brand).

However, it’s not just Toyota doing a solid job of creating a culture of brand-loyal customers. Another popular Japanese automaker, Honda, also enjoyed a decent repurchase rate among consumers. According to the study, 52 percent of previous Honda hybrid owners bought another Honda, with roughly 20 percent purchasing another hybrid (again, regardless of brand).

As retired Danish soccer manager Ebbe Skovdahl once pointed out “statistics are just like mini-skirts, they give you good ideas but hide the most important thing.” Those humorous words of wisdom apply just as much to the automotive world as they do the world of sports. And while the figures may cast hybrid vehicles in an unfavorable light, they also show the importance hybrid cars play in attracting new customers and retaining old ones. As director of Polk’s Loyalty Management Practice, Brad Smith noted, “Having a hybrid in the product lineup can certainly give a brand a competitive edge when it comes to attracting new customers.”

Still, according to Polk’s study, hybrid vehicles represent just 2.4 percent of the overall new vehicle market in the United States, which according to figures from Polk is down from a high of 2.9 percent in 2008.

While hybrid vehicles may attract consumers to a particular automaker, the study also found that the increasing price of gasoline has “had little impact on hybrid segment loyalty,” which is mainly due to the rapidly increasing fuel economy of cheaper conventionally powered vehicles — opposed to more expensive hybrids.

A very real problem General Motors has dealt with, much to the detriment of the Chevy Volt, has seen consumers more inclined to purchase the Volt’s cheaper cousin, Chevrolet’s Cruze, which carries an MSPR that tops out at around $23,882 — nearly half that of the Volt’s $40,000 sticker price — and gets nearly the same fuel economy (37 mpg highway to the Volts 40 mpg). 

Interestingly, Polk also found that when repurchase rates for the Toyota Prius isn’t factored in, hybrid loyalty drops to under 25 percent. Although, that figure is somewhat misleading given that Toyota builds and sells the majority of hybrids in the U.S.

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