Hybrid Registrations On the Rise



Is the hybrid’s battery half-full or half-empty? Nationwide, the number of new hybrids registered last year rose 28 percent last year, to 254,545. That ought to encourage environmentalists and hybrid manufacturers alike – unless they also consider the fact that the pace of growth actually slowed in 2006, to the second-lowest year-over-year increase since 2000.

"Consumers know that hybrids are important to the environment, but they are not the only option," said Lonnie Miller, director of Industry Analysis for R. L. Polk & Co., a Detroit-based firm that tracks automotive registrations. "Automakers still have obstacles to overcome to prove the merit of owning a hybrid,” added Miller, noting that many potential customers are “risk-averse…toward the relatively new-to-market technology.”


Since the launch of the Honda Insight, the first hybrid-electric vehicle sold in theU.S. , more than a dozen other gasoline-electric models have rolled into showrooms across the country, including some of the newest models, such as the Saturn Vue Green Line and Nissan Altima Hybrid. Even so, the technology accounted for a modest 1.5 percent of all new vehicles registered in the U.S.


Of all the hybrids registered last year, Polk data show that Toyota led the list of manufacturers, its popular Prius model accounting for 42.8 percent of all new hybrid models registered. “However, with several models debuting over the next two years, and many in the works for the near future, Toyota market share will be challenged,” cautioned Miller. Despite all the new entries now on the road, just three hybrids accounted for three-quarters of hybrid registrations last year: the Prius, Toyota ’s Highlander Hybrid, at 12.5 percent, and the Honda Civic Hybrid, at 12.3 percent.


Hybrid buyers are an intensely loyal group, according to Polk research. A study of 700 owners by the Polk Center for Automotive Studies found that more than half strongly or somewhat believe all vehicles on the road should use hybrid technology. And nearly half felt it was appropriate to pay a premium for the technology in order to achieve long-term environmental benefits.


That echoes another new study, by a German market research firm, finding that buyers around the world see hybrids and fuel-cell vehicles as the automotive technologies of the future. Of the 3500 car buyers in the U.S., Germany, France, Great Britain, India, and China surveyed by PULS Market Research, 42.7 percent named the hybrid the powertrain of the future. A nearly-identical 41.9 percent picked the hydrogen fuel cell. About 38 percent see bio-fuel-powered vehicles as the best option. A surprisingly low 11.5 percent picked advanced diesel or gasoline technology. “These results show that cataclysmic changes are to be expected in engine technology,” the PULS suggested.


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