Quite a few big-name auto insurers have been giving hybrid owners a discount on their premium. But those deals might not last much longer; as an insurance data-analysis firm points out, the insurance industry could be losing big because of this.
The surprising result: Hybrid drivers typically drive farther, get more tickets, and have significantly more expensive insurance claims.
San Francisco-based Quality Planning analyzed the driving habits of about 360,000 vehicle owners and found that hybrid owners drive up to 25 percent more than non-hybrid owners.
The firm looked at several common use categories used by insurers—including "pleasure use" (everyday driving) and "high commute" (commuting more than 15 miles a day). The long commuters traveled about the same distance whether they drove a hybrid or not, but the everyday drivers of hybrids drove about 25 percent (2,000 miles) farther than those of non-hybrids—largely offsetting any petroleum savings.
For some hybrid owners, the decreased guilt associated with improved fuel-efficiency might actually increase the number of pleasure trips. "High mileage drivers appear to be attracted to these vehicles, so insurers should take steps to verify the intended use of hybrids and validate actual miles driven whenever possible," said Dr. Raj Bhat, the president of Quality Planning.
Wrecked Toyota Prius owned by Elizabeth James, photo by Ted James, from Houston Press
Looking at moving violations, Quality Planning found that Toyota Prius drivers get 0.38 violations per 100,000 miles driven, compared to an average of 0.23. Collision loss costs are also much higher for hybrids—with comprehensive coverage loss about 17 percent higher than average. Furthermore, two—the Toyota Highlander Hybrid and Ford Escape Hybrid—have among the highest collision loss costs. For 2006 hybrid models, the costs to the insurer of comprehensive coverage were 75 percent higher than average.
Even if the hybrid discounts that insurers are giving help attract new business, chances are they aren't so fiscally sound overall. "A 25-percent increase in miles driven or a 30-percent differential in loss costs is very significant," said Bhat.