A new study of 118 Prius drivers, recruited mostly through flyers placed on their windshield, shatters the conventional wisdom that hybrids do not pay for themselves. Most of the Prius shoppers wanted an eco-friendly car. But when asked what kind of car they would have purchased if they had not bought a hybrid, these shoppers would have purchased a vehicle costing thousands of dollars more than a Prius. Therefore, the Prius was not only their most desired vehicle; it was cheaper than other cars on their shopping list.

“This study captured the people that traded down from a luxury vehicle, such as Audi A6, BMW X3 or Acura TL,” said Jonathan Klein, general partner of the Topline Strategy Group, the Boston-based business and technology strategy firm which conducted the study. In an interview for HybridCars.com, Klein said today’s hybrid buyers “could be considered the second wave of the hybrid market.” The first group of hybrid buyers, considered early adopters, was motivated by a desire to reduce their environmental impact or buy their fascination with new technology.

“Our study also captured the front end of the third wave, consumers who are buying a hybrid just because it’s a better financial option,” said Klein. Most of the respondents used longer periods of ownership and higher gas prices than usually used by journalists. As a result, the shoppers found hybrids to be a compelling financial transaction.

Klein believes that the demographics of Prius buyers in his study are indicative of the broader hybrid market:

  • 71 percent of respondents earned more than $100,000 per year.
  • 73 percent were 40 years or older.
  • 58 percent were men.
  • 88 percent were “very happy” with their Prius; 12 percent were “somewhat happy.”

The changes in the market reflect a move “from green to practical,” according to Klein. He believes that hybrid market will expand rapidly, regardless of gas prices, to a point when consumers will more casually choose a hybrid “because it’s a better option” without much consideration of hybrids as new technology or better for the environment. Klein views hybrids as a “real disruptive technology making its debut in automotive” and considers hybrids a critical market advantage for Toyota. He said, “When it all settles, and most carmakers have their hybrids, Toyota will have made their gain from 17 to 22 percent of the market.”