Study: For Shoppers, Vehicle Cost Matters More Than The Environment

April 27, 2011
Toyota Prius Plug-In

Toyota Prius Plug-In

One of the hard realities of considering some of the greenest advance-technology vehicles like hybrids or electric cars is that they almost always come with higher price tags.

And, as J.D. Power and Associates found in its 2011 Green Automotive Study, now that worries about hybrid performance and reliability have been eased, pricing has become a primary issue that's keeping more people from considering them—even as fuel prices climb.

Even hybrid shoppers think more about fuel cost than carbon footprint

Power points out that while buyers are aware of the environmental benefits of hybrid models like the Prius, their lower fuel costs are considered far more often; 75 percent of prospective buyers pointed to the lower fuel costs as a main benefit while only 50 percent cited the environmental benefits as primary.

The results for Power's survey are based on responses from more than 4,000 consumers who had indicated that they'd be in the market for a new vehicle within one to five years.

While hybrids have been around for more than a decade, very few hybrid models could be called sales successes—and no other model has come close to the three-million worldwide sales and one-million U.S. sales of the Toyota Prius. Other established hybrid models, such as the Honda Insight, Honda Civic Hybrid, Ford Escape Hybrid, and Ford Fusion hybrid, have remained models with niche appeal.

Limitations will keep advanced powertrains out of the mainstream?

Among other interesting study findings/projections: Range anxiety and functional concerns will limit consideration more than the price premiums for electric cars; and clean diesel will stay a relatively small portion of the market.

"While consumers often cite saving money on fuel as the primary benefit of owning an alternative powertrain vehicle, the reality for many is that the initial cost of these vehicles is too high, even as fuel prices in the United States approach record levels," says the firm in a release accompanying the results.


The message to automakers to take away from the study, according to the firm, is that the interest in green vehicles remains, and the perception of these vehicles is mostly positive, but "converting this interest into actual sales will require concerted efforts to improve the technology and infrastructure and reduce the cost to consumers."

The other alternative: 'normal' cars that are green

2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco

2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco

For those who want to keep green but keep cost way down, there are a number of small-car options that get 40 mpg or more on the highway and cost considerably less than a hybrid; examples include the 2011 Hyundai Elantra, 2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco, and the 2011 Ford Fiesta and 2012 Ford Focus (when properly optioned).

According to Power, the market is about to see a barrage of green models, with a total of 159 hybrid and electric models expected by the end of 2016, as opposed to just 31 today.

"Despite a rapid increase in the number of alternative powertrain vehicle models projected for the next several years, automakers will be fighting over the relatively few consumers who are willing to drive green," anticipates the firm.

For anyone shopping for a vehicle and placing the priority on being green, within reason, that's nothing but good news.

[J.D. Power and Associates]

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