There are more hybrids on sale than there have ever been. With fuel prices headed skyward, automakers have been prompted to rush out even more fuel-efficient gas-electric cars—and some exclusively electric.
But if a new survey by research agency Polk is to be believed, people who get into hybrids don’t often stay with them, as only 35 percent of owners choose to purchase new hybrids when the time comes. In fact, when you take the Toyota Prius out of consideration—a car with a cult-like following—the hybrid retention rate drops to a lowly 25 percent.
Much of that can be attributed to the higher cost of entry versus non-hybrid cars and the value proposition they provide. Taking into account the Honda Civic, for example, a new Civic HF sedan has a starting price of $20,395, including $790 for destination and handling. It achieves 29 mpg city/41 mpg highway/33 mpg combined. A similarly equipped 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid starts at $24,990 and gets 44 mpg city/44 mpg highway/44 mpg combined. At current gas prices, it would take 10 years to make up the difference.
But that’s not to say hybrids don’t have a place in automakers’ lineups. Although hybrid loyalty is somewhat low, Polk found that in 2011, 60 percent of Toyota Prius owners went back to their Toyota dealers to buy another Toyota. Just 41 percent of Prius owners bought another hybrid.
Meanwhile, 52 percent of Honda Civic Hybrid owners returned for another Honda product, while a mere 20 percent replaced their hybrids with with another.
“[Hybrids are] a great conquesting tool for brands,” Polk’s director of loyalty management services, Brad Smith, said in an interview with Automotive News. He went on to describe them as “a competitive edge when it comes to attracting new customers.”
Last year, hybrid sales comprised just 2.4 percent of the U.S. new car market, according to Polk. That was down from their best of 2.9 percent in 2008 amid a wilted economy and the U.S.’s first bout with $4 per gallon gasoline. Since then, plenty more credibly alternatives have shown up, providing excellent fuel economy without the need for expensive hybrid propulsion systems.
That, in turn, makes forking out an extra several thousand dollars for a hybrid or electric car that much tougher of a pill to swallow.
Sources: Automotive News, Polk