A decade of hybrid vehicle availability in the United States has not yielded hybrid loyalty according to a recent report by Polk. This report shows that only 35% of hybrid owners continue to buy hybrids beyond their first purchase. Analysts with Polk found that hybrid loyalty differed from brand to brand though American consumers often reverted to traditional vehicles even in eco-conscious communities. Polk’s report should give pause to automakers and marketing firms that rely on repeat business for their success.
Polk determined that hybrid models represented 2.4% of new vehicle sales in 2011 compared to a 2.9% share in 2008. The report determined that Toyota owners were most likely to remain in the hybrid market with 41% of Toyota hybrid owners opting for similar vehicles in the future. Polk also found brand loyalty was strong among Toyota hybrid owners as 61% of owners stuck with the brand in future purchases. Honda also showed disparity between hybrid owners who stuck with hybrids (20%) and those who stuck generally with the Honda brand (52%).
Variables including fluctuating fuel costs and targeted releases in eco-conscious communities have not helped develop hybrid loyalty in the past decade. Spikes in fuel prices from 2008 through 2011 did not result in similar spikes in hybrid purchases. The impact of these spikes was largest on fuel-efficient coupes and sedans rather than hybrids. Polk also found that hybrid owners in eco-conscious cities like Portland, San Diego and Seattle were as likely to buy hybrids as consumers across the country. This conclusion shows that focusing on these markets for testing and early releases only has limited impact on hybrid sales.
The absence of hybrid loyalty in the United States is rooted in larger economic causes as well as consumer skepticism about new technology. Economic circumstances including a tightening of lending practices and poor consumer liquidity increase the difficulty in buying hybrids. Consumers are often unwilling to shell out the higher upfront costs for hybrids in successive purchases. Automakers have also dropped the ball by reluctantly expanding their hybrid offerings beyond flagship models. The slow simmer of hybrid vehicle development means that hybrid owners find few new options when their current vehicles are headed for the junkyard.