Environmental, Economic Factors Drive Hybrid Purchases, Study Finds | Edmunds

Environmental, Economic Factors Drive Hybrid Purchases, Study Finds

Just the Facts:
  • Environmental and economic factors drive purchases of hybrid vehicles, according to a new study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.
  • Women make up the majority of hybrid buyers.
  • Among the non-hybrid owners, 33 percent say they never even considered purchasing a hybrid vehicle, while 37 percent thought they were too expensive.

ANN ARBOR, Michigan — A new study from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute provides fresh insight into the perception of hybrid cars, both from the perspective of current hybrid drivers and owners of other vehicles.

Among the key findings: Environmental and economic factors drive purchases of hybrid vehicles. In addition, women make up the majority of hybrid buyers.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy's Alternative Fuels Data Center, the number of hybrids sold in the U.S. has climbed steadily over the past 15 years, from 0.1 percent of total vehicle sales in 1999 to 3.8 percent in 2013.

U.M. researchers Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle wanted to know if the consumer view of these vehicles is changing as hybrids move further into the American automotive mainstream.

To get at such issues as the factors that led current owners to purchase their cars and those that influence future acceptance of hybrids, they surveyed 1,002 hybrid owners and 1,038 owners of conventional vehicles.

Probably the least surprising result of their study is that most hybrid owners bought their cars for environmental and economic reasons. Fully 86 percent of survey respondents cited those factors as their reasons for deciding to get a hybrid: 33 percent said they wanted to reduce their environmental impact; 28 percent said they hoped to save money in the long run; and 25 percent said they generally wanted to use less energy.

Perhaps more interesting, 93 percent of hybrid owners reported no power plant-specific problems with their vehicles. Battery issues — often cited as a concern in discussions of hybrids and EVs — were a problem for only 3 percent of owners.

And hybrid owners appear to be pleased with their purchases. Overall, 83 percent of them intend to buy another hybrid. But if you exclude those who don't plan to get another vehicle at all, the number climbs to 88 percent.

The demographic breakdown of hybrid owners also proved interesting. Almost 80 percent of them are women, 80 percent are over the age of 50, 96 percent have a college education and almost half report household income of more than $100,000 per year.

Among the non-hybrid owners, 37 percent cited cost as the biggest factor in deciding against a hybrid. Around 28 percent of respondents thought the initial price of such vehicles was too high, and 9 percent saw them as too expensive in the long run. Meanwhile, 33 percent of respondents claim it never even occurred to them to consider a hybrid. Only 5 percent said they were worried about reliability.

About 46 percent of non-hybrid owners maintained that nothing would prompt them consider a hybrid as their next vehicle. But 26 percent said they would consider a hybrid if the initial cost were lower. About 2 percent are looking for bigger trucks and SUVs with hybrid powerplants, and another 2 percent say they want better performance and handling in hybrid vehicles.

Perhaps most surprisingly, a full one-third of those respondents who do not currently own a hybrid said they plan to purchase a hybrid as their next vehicle. As with current owners, the primary reason for switching to a hybrid was to reduce environmental impact (46 percent), followed by saving money in the long run (24 percent) and using less energy (23 percent).

For those who are interested in considering a hybrid for their next vehicle purchase, the Environmental Protection Agency has a side-by-side comparison page that may prove helpful.

Among the many popular small and midsize choices to be found there are the Ford Fusion Hybrid, Honda Civic Hybrid,  Honda Accord Hybrid, Toyota Prius, Toyota Camry Hybrid  and Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid.

Large and luxury models include the Acura ILX Hybrid,  BMW ActiveHybrid 5, Infiniti Q70 Hybrid, Lexus ES 300h, Lincoln MKZ Hybrid  and Mercedes-Benz E400 Hybrid.

SUV shoppers can choose from such vehicles as the Audi Q5 Hybrid, Lexus RX 450h, Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid, Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid,  Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid,  Toyota Highlander Hybrid  and Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid.

Of course, many other choices are available. To learn more, visit the Edmunds Hybrid and Electric Center.

Edmunds says: It will be interesting to see whether the survey respondents' stated intention to purchase a hybrid translates into a major consumer-buying trend.

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