Green Update: Hybrid Unpopularity Survey Questioned

April 10th, 2012
2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

A somewhat flawed Polk survey shows that only 35 percent of hybrid buyers would buy one again. If you take Toyota Prius owners out of the mix, “hybrid loyalty drops to under 25 percent.”

The survey also reports that hybrid owners are looking to other kinds of vehicles, including higher-tech gasoline-powered cars, to get fuel costs down. Yes, we all know that new 4-cylinder turbo technology has improved. We also know that gas-powered cars cost a lot less than cars with batteries.

If initial cost and return on investment are the only factors, well, of course you won’t buy a hybrid or EV. If gas prices continue to rise, the cost differential will rapidly get smaller and ROI will improve.

Hybrids are also supplemental cars for many people; they fill a different role as second cars. Further, Polk doesn’t say how it measured its “repeat purchases.” Is the current hybrid owner buying another hybrid or replacing the hybrid already owned? As one commenter here (IT guy) put it: “how many people buy two consecutive Honda Fits?”

And yet, a recent Bloomberg piece indicates that sales of EVs, hybrids and plug-ins “were the fastest-growing segment in the U.S. auto market in the first quarter,” with sales rising 49 percent (117,182 vehicles sold) over 2011. They account for this by rising gas prices.

And that factor is going to be the key to hybrid demand, at least in the short term. Farther out, there is little agreement on how or whether these cars will take hold.

Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn keeps pushing for EVs to account for 10 percent of the market by 2020. Others claim it will be more like 2 percent.

The carmakers, some of them, are betting high: Hyundai North America CEO John Krafcick is selling a lot of Sonatas, up to 30 percent with gasoline-electric hybrid systems. Such cars, he points out, are not as attractive for urban dwellers, owing to lack of recharge capabilities. Honda, despite its troubles, more than doubled sales of the Civic Hybrid last month.

Electric FedEx truckOn another front, FedEx started with four electric trucks in the U.S. in 2010; now it has 43 in service and testing. Drivers love them. Frito-Lay is running 176 EV trucks.

Problems: FedEx trucks take lots of current (and 8 hours) to fully recharge but can run 100 miles per charge. They cost two to three times more than present delivery vans but run at 75 percent lower operational cost, plus being “zero-emissions.”

Like cars, charging and recharging are the stumbling blocks. But with fixed routes and times, look for EVs to make big inroads in the urban delivery and fleet van business.

Back to the Polk survey: Do you think its flaws invalidate the findings?

—jgoods

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Used Toyota Prius
Used Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
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  1. Randy
    April 12th, 2012 at 16:05 | #1

    I’m sure some of the problem is that so many so-called hybrids are really scam mobiles with very weak, ineffective hybrid systems that do very little for mileage in real world driving. I sure would not want to buy another one if I paid a $6000 premium for an extra 1 or 2 MPG.
    Toyota, on the other hand, has had good luck with the Prius and I don’t see a lot of them on used car lots. Used prices, also, stay high for the Prius. If everybody wanted to dump them, the used prices would be quite low.

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