SOUTHFIELD – While the selection of hybrid models in the U.S. has more than doubled since 2007, only 35 percent of hybrid vehicle owners chose to purchase a hybrid again when returning to the market in 2011, according to recent analysis by Polk. If repurchase behavior among the high volume audience of Toyota Prius owners isn’t factored in, hybrid loyalty drops to under 25 percent.
However, hybrid owners appear to maintain brand loyalty when returning to the new car market. For example, in 2011, 60 percent of Toyota hybrid owners returned to the market to purchase another Toyota, according to Polk, while 41 percent of them purchased another hybrid from any brand. In the case of Honda hybrid owners, more than 52 percent of them stayed with the Honda brand, while just under 20 percent of this same owner group bought another hybrid vehicle from any brand.
“Having a hybrid in the product lineup can certainly give a brand a competitive edge when it comes to attracting new customers,” noted Brad Smith, director of Polk’s Loyalty Management Practice. “The repurchase rates of hybrid vehicles are an indication that consumers are continuing to seek alternative solutions to high fuel prices.”
Online cross-shopping data from Edmunds.com indicates that consumers are comparing hybrids with similar gasoline-powered vehicles. As an example, the Honda Civic is the second most cross-shopped vehicle among both Toyota Prius and Honda Insight shoppers.
Hybrid vehicles represent just 2.4 percent of the overall new vehicle market in the U.S., according to Polk, down from a high of 2.9 percent in 2008.
“The lineup of alternate-drive vehicles and their premium price points just aren’t appealing enough to consumers to give the segment the momentum it once anticipated, especially given the growing strength of fuel economy among compact and midsize competitors,” according to Lacey Plache, Edmunds.com chief economist. “For EVs and PHEVs in particular, certain obstacles – including consumer unease with unfamiliar technology and the lack of an adequate recharging infrastructure – will need to be overcome before sales increase.”
Polk’s research also indicates that volatility in fuel prices between 2008 and 2011, which ranged from just under $2.00 a gallon to nearly $4.00, had little impact on hybrid segment loyalty.
Surprisingly, Polk also found that consumers in traditional eco-friendly markets in the U.S., such as Los Angeles, San Diego, Portland, Ore. and Seattle, are no more loyal to hybrid vehicles than the nation at large.