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The number of hybrid car sales in North America will double in the next three years, according to a new forecast presented by R.L. Polk & Company, a leading auto industry market research firm. Polk forecasts that more than one in 20 new vehicles sold in the United States and Canada will have a hybrid gas-electric powertrain by 2012. That’s a growth from 2.8 percent in 2008 to 5.3 percent in 2012.
The rate of growth in Western Europe will be even more dramatic—from one-half percent this year to 5 percent in 2012. “You have a lot more environmental and political discussions throughout the EU and a much higher sensitivity with CO2 emissions,” said Lonnie Miller, director of automotive studies at Polk, in an interview with HybridCars.com. Miller added that a lot of the growth in Europe is coming from the Toyota Prius, a global leader for fuel efficiency and low emissions—and the most popular hybrid vehicle in all global markets.
R.L. Polk establishes future rates of growth based on past hybrid vehicle registrations—the company has unique access to owner registration data. Polk also analyzes consumer confidence in the overall auto market and product availability. According to announcements from global automakers, the number of hybrids is expected to grow from about 20 today to more than 40 by the end of 2010.
Miller presented his findings last week at a symposium about marketing new powertrains, organized by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. The goal of the event was to shed light on consumer acceptance of various new powertrain technologies. Miller believes that hybrids will continue to sell, despite the recent drop in gas prices. “If you look at one month compared to the previous month, we might be down. But when you close the books for the year, we’re going to be up on hybrids.”
Major Hybrid Car Trends, Accord to Polk
Economic Meltdown Will Not Slow Down Hybrids
Polk stands by its forecasts despite the downturn in auto sales. “The meltdown will translate to lower quantities because you have a lower market base,” said Miller. “But given the attention on fuel efficiency, base demand will increase.” The Polk forecast is consistent with what other market firms, such as J.D. Power, are forecasting for hybrid growth.
Hybrids Are Going Global
Five years ago, 99 percent of global hybrid sales were from US, Canada, Japan, UK and France. Today, the hybrid market has spread to nearly 50 countries. Polk is seeing dramatic growth in the Netherlands, Greece, and Israel.
Very High Customer Loyalty Rates
Nearly one in three Prius owners buys another Prius. On average, one in five hybrid owners buys the same model again. These loyalty rates are consistently high for every popular hybrid model.
Carmakers Will Promote Hybrid-Only Models AND Hybrid Options on Existing Models
Miller believes that carmakers will continue to produce hybrid-only models—like the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight—to benefit from the halo effect. But once a carmaker creates an image of hybrid leadership through a dedicated hybrid model, gas-electric options will be offered on existing models. “By expanding into existing models that people are already familiar with, you cast a bigger net faster.”
The Public Believes Hybrid Technology Is ‘For Real’
According to Polk, the number of consumers that think hybrids are a fad is going down. Despite the buzz (in the industry and among enthusiasts) about other options, such as clean diesel and plug-in vehicles, the public puts all the alternatives in the catchall category of “hybrids.” Miller said, “I don’t think they understand the other technologies being discussed. Hybrids are all they know.”