Most Hybrid Owners Wouldn’t Buy Another One

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The deadline to file your taxes is a week from today, and a new survey by eBay says 21 percent of Americans who expect a refund will spend at least part of it on a new or used car. But will they buy a hybrid?

Toyota announced last week that U.S. sales of the Prius hit an all-time high – 28,711 sold in March. While that’s 54 percent more than the same month a year ago, it’s still puny compared the Toyota Camry, which had sales of 42,567 last month.

Now a new survey suggests most hybrid owners will go back to gas-only. “While the selection of hybrid models in the U.S. has more than doubled since 2007, only 35 percent of hybrid vehicle owners choose to purchase a hybrid again,” claims automotive research firm Polk.

The only good news is for Toyota: “If repurchase behavior among the high volume audience of Toyota Prius owners isn’t factored in, hybrid loyalty drops to under 25 percent.”

That’s bad news for the Honda Civic Hybrid, the Ford Fusion Hybrid, the Lexus HS 250h, the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, and more than a dozen other models. But how can hybrid owners be unhappy in this era of nearly $4-a-gallon gasoline? Part of the reason may be that the survey was conducted in 2011, so prices weren’t as high as they are today. But another reason may be purchase price vs. fuel savings.

“The lineup of alternate-drive vehicles and their premium price points just aren’t appealing enough to consumers to give the segment the momentum it once anticipated,” says Lacey Plache, chief economist for car-pricing site Plache says that’s especially true “given the growing strength of fuel economy among compact and midsize competitors.”

In other words, standard gas-powered cars are getting more fuel-efficient at lower sticker prices. “Hybrid, electric car owners must wait years for savings,” read a headline in the Charlotte Observer last weekend. The paper reported that “opting for models that promise better mileage through new technologies does not necessarily save money.”

That’s bad news for Chevrolet, which makes the all-electric Volt – a car Mitt Romney insulted in December, telling a Boston radio show, “The Chevrolet Volt?…An idea whose time has not come.”

Of course, tastes can change on a dime – especially when gas prices can go up by that much in a single day. The Polk study concedes that, while prices now have had “little impact on hybrid segment loyalty,” that can change “as fuel prices continue to rise.”

Regardless, Polk says car companies should keep making hybrids – because they also drive customers to their more traditional vehicles. “For example, in 2011, 60 percent of Toyota hybrid owners returned to the market to purchase another Toyota,” Polk reports. “In the case of Honda hybrid owners, more than 52 percent of them stayed with the Honda brand.”

If you’re in the market for a hybrid, named its top 2012 hybrids just last week. Here are the best in the five car categories (excluding SUVs and trucks). Note that two are Priuses…

  1. Subcompact: The 2012 Toyota Prius ($18,950) gets 53 mpg city/46 mpg highway
  2. Compact: The 2012 Honda Insight ($18,350) gets 41 city/44 highway
  3. Midsize: The 2012 Toyota Prius ($24,000) gets 51 city/48 highway
  4. Family sedan: The 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid ($25,900) gets 43 city/39 highway
  5. Luxury car: The 2012 Infinity M35h ($53,700) gets 27 city/32 highway

Before you buy, however, read this first: 7 Under-Appreciated Benefits of a Hybrid – and 1 Unknown Drawback. And if you’re contemplating going electric, check out 5 Reasons NOT to Buy an Electric Car. Just want to improve the gas milage in the car you already got? Read…

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