With gas prices hovering just under $4 a gallon and fuel-efficient cars selling as fast as Suzanne Collins novels, you'd think that demand for hybrids would be through the roof.
And it is -- just not among people who already own hybrids.
A new study from Polk Automotive says that when shopping for a new car, only 35% of hybrid owners trade in their ride for another hybrid model. And if you factor out purchases made by Toyota Prius owners (who tend to be fairly loyal), the figure drops to 25%.
The stats aren't any better in those parts of the country that we typically consider "eco-friendly". In Portland, Oregon, for example, Polk found that only 34.8% of hybrid owners purchased another hybrid, compared to the national average of 35%. In Los Angeles, figure was slightly lower, at 34.1%.
In fact, the only two markets in the country to score above a 40% loyalty rate on hybrids were West Palm Beach, Florida (43.2%) and Phoenix, Arizona (40.2%).
What's the deal?
There are several factors that might explain customers' lack of loyalty to the hybrid powertrain:
- Polk's 35% figure is an average taken from new-car sales throughout 2011, when, on the whole, gas prices were lower than they are today. During the fourth quarter of 2011, however, as pump prices began to climb, the number hit 40.1%, and it could be much higher today.
- Hybrids are pricier than their gas-powered counterparts. For shoppers on a budget, it may not be possible to shell out the extra dough for a higher-tech car, even if it means saving money on fuel down the line.
- Hybrids aren't the only vehicles getting great fuel economy these days. The 2012 Ford Fiesta, for example, will hit 38 mpg on the highway, and it starts at just over $13,000 -- significantly less than most hybrid models.
- And let's not forget that while the range of hybrid vehicles is growing, it's remains comparatively limited. For customers who want more options in terms of styling and size, hybrids have a tough time competing against their gas-powered cousins.
If you have a few minutes to spare, our colleagues over at Green Car Reports offer some in-depth analysis of this report and its implications for the auto market.