Fickle Hybrid Shoppers and Loyal Hybrid Drivers

When gas prices were skyrocketing this year, American car buyers quickly and overwhelmingly made fuel efficiency their top priority. That led to a massive shift toward smaller vehicles. Hybrids like the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid flew off dealer lots.

Now that gas prices are sliding back down, one national survey found that car buyers are already rethinking their new obsession with high-mileage little cars. Edmunds.com research found that in July truck owners dramatically reduced the extent to which they cross-shopped in the other major vehicle segments—cars, crossovers and hybrids—compared with June. SUV owners were also fickle, but to a lesser extent.

Consideration of hybrids on Edmunds.com was down 34 percent for the week ending August 3 compared with its peak in June. Similarly, midsize-car consideration was down 13 percent in the same comparison; compact-car consideration declined 18 percent; and subcompact-car consideration declined 7 percent. However, the consideration for those segments was still up compared with December of last year.

At the same time, in July, consumers’ consideration of formerly shunned segments, such as large crossovers, minivans and sports cars, began bouncing back.

Separating Short-Term and Long-Term Hybrid Trends

The latest Edmunds.com data indicate that the industry may have overreacted to the consumer shift. However, other industry observers—and the auto industry itself—are less convinced that consumers are really that fickle.

Lonnie Miller, director of industry analysis for R.L. Polk & Co., told Hybridcars.com that his research indicated that the long-term prospects for hybrids are solid. He sees the shift noted by Edmunds as likely affecting potential hybrid buyers who are part of the broader market that have only recently started to consider hybrids. The core hybrid market of consumers interested in fuel efficiency for environmental or financial reasons will continue to grow as it has since hybrids first became available, according to Miller.

One supporting piece of consumer research was released last month, indicating that hybrid buyers were among the most loyal in the market. Forty-seven percent of hybrid buyers buy the same make on their next purchase, compared with 35 percent of buyers overall, according to Experian Automotive, a division of global information provider Experian. Eighteen percent of hybrid car buyers even buy the same model, compared with 12 percent overall.

A second study by Maritz Research found that hybrid buyers’ loyalty could be measured in another way. When asked whether they would consider a hybrid version of their new vehicle had it been available, roughly seven in 10 said they would. When considering purchase of a new vehicle, those who choose hybrids are motivated by a desire to obtain an environmentally-friendly vehicle, but even more importantly, to achieve the greatest level of fuel economy, Maritz found.

According to Maritz research, this pattern differs markedly from that demonstrated by vehicle buyers overall, who are divided in terms of what they consider most important; the maximum proportion choosing reliability—at about 11 percent.

The dueling research appears to show that the hybrid segment will continue to exceed supply—though possibly not at the hyper-heated rate of recent months that has produced dealer premiums and long waiting lists.


  • Don Baumbach

    Good. Maybe people will get off the prius waiting list so I will get mine sooner then 6 months like the dealer told me when I placed my order.

  • PatrickPunch

    People should keep in mind that the barrel price is still above the level of early this year. It is also about twice the level it was after Katrina hit New Orleans.

    Americans should stop wasting fuel with cars bigger than what they really need, much more power than required and driving trips that are not necessary. Save some fuel for your off spring.

    My suggestions:
    - when a car needs replacement buy one with 30+ mpg in real traffic (these cars are available)
    - keep it well maintained and tyres inflated to the correct pressure
    - drive in a fuel efficient way (look for tips on the web)
    - replace short distance trips bt walking or cycling, it will improve your health
    - rethink whether long trips are required

  • Lilah

    I think it’s interesting they see lowering gas prices as the reason people aren’t buying hybrids. I’ve called every dealer in my state (NJ) and the few dealer that have hybrids on the lot are charging well beyond the msrp. My car is dying now I can’t wait 3-9 months for a hybrid. I think gas prices are irrelevant. People aren’t buying hybrids becuase the car companies aren’t keeping up with the demand for them.

  • langjie

    get an altima hybird!

  • steved28

    Kind of reminds me of the guy who asked to get hit in the head with a hammer. When asked why he wanted this, he said “Because it feels so good when you stop”.

    So now they got people thinking $3.60/gallon is good, because it’s under $4. Next year it will go to $4.50 or better, and everyone will think $4/gallon is sweet!

    (I agree with the above poster, I have an Altima hybrid, best kept secret in the industry)

  • Anonymous

    -Perhaps one reason for the apparent switch away from hybrids is the bad experience with greedy dealers.
    -I agree with Lilah and Don. When we shopped for a Prius three years ago, we were told we had to pay an unconscionable surcharge of several thousand dollars (among other things, this would adversely affect your insurance replacement cost). The dealer then tried to sell us a used Prius at well above cost for a new vehicle, and told us it was heavily discounted! After this visit we no longer trusted the dealer, but also no longer trusted Toyota. Honda and Ford did not have this policy, and we eventually bought an Escape hybrid. The Prius is far from a perfect car (the visibility is terrible, the interior is cheesy, repairs can be expensive, etc.), so although Toyota may perform well in the short term, their credibility may suffer with their avaricious dealing (look what happened to GM).

  • Shines

    Hmm, seems like a non story to me. When prices skyrocket more people become interested in fuel efficient cars and hybrids. When the prices start to come down, some of those people and others lose some of their interest and regain interest is less efficient vehicles.
    Hybrid owners are loyal…
    ok

  • Bryce

    I agree with the above statements a little more than the article. I really do think any drop in demand for these vehicles is caused by exorbitant prices demanded by dealers and low supply that make getting a fuel efficient vehicle such a hassle. If people are really looking to save money, they oughta get an Aveo/Yaris/Fit. These are the highest rated vehicles in money saving and their fuel economy numbers are just shy of the Prius but can cost you nearly half the price initially.

    As for the Altima Hybrid, I agree, a beautiful vehicle. Better fuel economy, power, and styling than the Camry. Exterior styling……..I sadly haven’t seen the interior of a new Altima.

  • Dom

    The other best kept secret in the automotive industry is the VW TDI. While the media has obsessed over the Prius, VW has quietly sold all they could import. New cleaner version coming to dealers as we speak. Unfortunately this time there is a waiting list for these too! And the used TDI’s usually sell for much more than the gasoline version of the same car.

  • John K.

    Speaking only for me and 3 friends: We got all excited months ago and checked them out. Shortages of new cars made a couple of us wait. Personally, I spent >36 hours online researching the entire field — mild hybrids, parallel, two-mode, series, electric, hydraulic, mechanical (Flybrid) — both of which recover 2x the energy thru regen braking as electric). Bottom line: thing will keep improving over the next 5 yrs. Like w/computers, buy a new one when it suits you.

    Big things to watch: commercialization of EEstore’s ultracap and the Aptera, end of ’08; next gen Prius, April ’09; cityZenn EV and Aptera EREV, Nov ’09; Saturn Vue PHEV and Chevy Volt, Nov ’10; and PHEV Prius for public sale and Flybrid flywheel brake regen, sometime in ’11.

    Buy when you NEED to but expect things to just keep getting better and cheaper (more competition and increased production driving down costs) — just like w/computers.

    The future can be both bright and green!

  • Samie

    I believe we our suffering from Prius fatigue. Hope Honda and GM shakes this up. Also I believe the price range for most hybrids is 23-30K+. Some hybrids may be priced under 20K in the future wc will allow for new markets to develop.

    We have to look at the comfort factor. Americans like larger roomy Cars, Truck, and Suv’s. If gas keeps going down this is a factor of why sales go down of hybrids. Im not saying its right its how Americans look at cars. Everyone bashes these buying habits but thats the way it is. If Ford produces more Escape Hybrids and other companies challenge Ford and there is newer efficient trucks without V8′s (hybrid diesels) then Americans can have their comfort with the benefits of Hybrid technologies.

    The future is the key……….

  • David P. Cabral

    Hybrids are not a good investment now. I am lucky; I bought a used hybrid in April 2008. I am sure if I waited to buy until May 2008, I would have had to pay more money than I did. Wait until the prices come down (or at least until the dealers are offering hybrids with the same cost as the sticker price).

    For those of you who need a car right away and can’t wait for hybrid fever to cool down… buy a used Toyota Corolla, used Honda Civic, used Mazda 3, used Chevrolet Prizm (basically any used car with 33+mpg). You will still save money on gas. You can then trade in this car for a new hybrid or new VW TDI in 2010 or 2011

  • Bryce

    Mr. John K……

    I have been watching the development of the EEstor ultracap and it is indeed very interesting. Possibly mating that to a Chevy Volt makes me salivate. : ) I can dream can’t I?

  • pendoctrjd

    People are so short sighted! I researched the hybrids for about a year or year and a half, watching the trends in buying. When I bought my Honda Civic Hybrid on New Year’s Eve of 2006, I saw the same trend as they’re touting in this article; gas prices recede and people pull the ole SUV’s out of storage thinking gas will go back down and stay down. How foolish! I made my move at the right time and have no regrets!

  • Collin Burnell

    Go Altima Hybrid!!!

    Other than the fact that my recirculating air switch turns itself off for no apparent reason (Aaarrgghh!!!) and I only notice after I start sucking in fumes from the vehicle in front of me… the Altima Hybrid is a dream!!!

    The interior is very nice! It drives great and is very quick from a stop (although it can be a little rough having 2 motors trying to work together). I have over 15,000 miles on mine and I am getting 33-34 MPG’s even though I have to have the A/C on 8 months out of the year (in Las Vegas).

  • Collin Burnell

    I would love a NEV (Neighbourhood Electric Vehicle) but 25MPH is too slow where I live all of the ‘local’ roads are 35 to 45 MPH speed limit. 35 could work! The ZENN is very nice!

  • Bryce

    I love the Altima hybrid and I can’t wait for the cityZENN!

  • John K.

    I forgot to finish my post.

    So, having researched the field and learned when various new products/technology will be available, we will NOT be visiting the dealers until we *need* to replace our cars. Acc to this article, that makes me and 3 of my friends “fickle hybrid shoppers.” No, it just means we’ve learned everything we need and are now waiting for the when the time is right. Then we’ll buy, preferably, Li ion PHEVs or Volts. We haven’t gone away or changed our minds because of a temporary price reduction in the cost of gasoline. We all look forward to breaking the monopoly the OPEC and the oil companies have had over our driving.

  • Bobby B

    I agree. Altima is the best hybrid on the market.

  • Bryce

    I have heard the Fusion hybrid gets 35/40 mpg. If so, that would be awesome. As I said above, the Altima is awesome, but such a fusion could replace it in that warm place in my heart. lol

  • Jmsjjolly

    Lilah,

    I too am originally from NJ and it seemed to be common practice that the dealers on Route 22 had inflated the price above MSRP as a premium due to high demand for a new model. This was especially true for the PT Cruiser in its infancy and with some Mustangs. A friend of mine and I who strolled new car lots regularly for pricing and new models, etc. We went to the Pennsylvania end of Route 22 (still in NJ) and those dealers did not add a premium to such vehicles. Further, if you are nto from North Central Jersey and can’t get out that way, look for more remote dealerships that may have inventory. Call around and be wary of big chain type dealers and their promises. I just had an incident with a Paramus Toytota dealer and the Priuses that he had “coming in at week’s end in any color I wanted”. This was in May. I now have a Honda Civic hybrid that we love. we waited about 6 – 8 weeks. Good luck.

  • SoloSoldier

    The Altima is available for sale in what?? 9 states… the Fusion the Volt and the Sonata, plus diesel Accord are all only talk at this point. If not a hybrid, I’d consider the VW Jetta diesel. It is ACTUALLY ON THE MARKET!!

  • Diane Adams

    I have a 2006 VW Jetta TDI SPECIAL EDITION with 17,000 miles on it and love it. I get 44-47 MPG in town. I am sad to say that it is now for sale. I am in NC. If interested call me 336-674-3334.

  • joy

    honda civic hybrid or toyota prius…they were the best hybrid cars i’ve seen so far…

    http://www.thepartsbin.com

  • LAUNCH X-431

    Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life has not. In some schools they have abolished failing grades; they’ll give you as many times as you want to get the right answer. This doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to anything in real life.

    http://www.sinosells.com/?u=1221