Study Says Hybrid Owners Don’t Always Buy Another Hybrid: Here’s Why

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2009 Toyota Prius

2009 Toyota Prius

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For many years, ever-rising gas prices have encouraged more and more car drivers to make the switch to cars with hybrid drivetrains. 

But with the first hybrids well over 10 years old, what happens when hybrid owners search for their next car? Do they buy another hybrid, or make the switch to something else? And why?

According to Automotive News (subscription required) a recent Polk Study has concluded that, excluding Toyota Prius drivers, only 22 percent of hybrid drivers replace their hybrid with another hybrid. 

Should we worry? Are hybrids losing popularity? 

No, and here’s why. 

Hybrid choice still isn’t all that large

Even taking into account recent additions to Toyota’s Prius lineup like the 2012 Toyota Prius V and 2012 Toyota Prius C, hybrid vehicle choice isn’t exactly large. 

In fact, until recently, a Prius buyer who needed a bigger family vehicle could either go to the 2012 Highlander Hybrid mid-size crossover, or a full-size hybrid SUV from General Motors. 

2012 Ford Escape Hybrid

2012 Ford Escape Hybrid

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Similarly, older buyers looking to downsize from a car like the Toyota Prius or Honda Accord Hybrid may have found themselves buying a more fuel-efficient non-hybrid like the 2012 Ford Fiesta or 2012 Nissan Versa, offsetting a more expensive fuel bill with a drastically smaller sticker price.

Moreover, some hybrids -- like the Honda Accord Hybrid and Ford Escape Hybrid -- are no longer available, making it hard for existing owners to upgrade to a similar car while retaining brand loyalty.

Since Toyota expanded its Prius range however, there’s a marked increase in Prius owners trading in for another Toyota hybrid. That extra choice is helping the automaker keep customers loyal when they outgrow their first hybrid.

More and more gasoline cars are getting hybrid-like gas mileage

It isn’t just older drivers looking to downsize that are being tempted by the charm of small-capacity, 4-cylinder engines either. 

With many automakers now building non-hybrid compact and subcompact cars that are capable of more than 40 mpg, the appeal of the high-cost, high gas-mileage hybrid is waning. 

CA 'Access OK' Clean Air Vehicle carpool lane sticker

CA 'Access OK' Clean Air Vehicle carpool lane sticker

Hybrid car perks are shrinking

While more cars than ever are using mild- or full-hybrid drivetrains, the incentives for owning a hybrid car have shrunken dramatically. 

Take California, for example. 

Until fairly recently, anyone buying a hybrid in the state was eligible to apply for a rebate to help offset the higher sticker price of a hybrid car. 

Hybrid owners were also given the opportunity to register for HOV-Lane stickers, giving unrestricted use of the high-occupancy vehicle lanes, regardless of how many passengers were in the car. 

Historically, hybrids with HOV-Lane Stickers were worth $1,200 to $1,500 more than hybrids without the coveted sticker.  But in December 2010 California ended its HOV Lane perks for hybrid cars. 

Therefore, many owners who purchased a hybrid to gain extra perks like tax-rebates and HOV-lane access no-longer have those extra perks to encourage them to stick with a hybrid. 

Hybrid owners are plugging in

As we’ve noted time and time again, many typical Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt buyers are making the switch from hybrids like the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic Hybrid and Honda Insight to a plug-in car. 

And while we know some readers will argue that yes, technically, the 2012 Chevrolet Volt is a plug-in hybrid, we’re pretty sure that for the purposes of the Polk Study, it classifies as an electric car. 

(Of course, it isn’t all one-way. Occasionally, we see price-gouging of plug-in cars that may push buyers into cars like the Honda Insight.)

What about you?

If you’re a first-time hybrid owner looking to replace your car for something else we’re keen to hear from you. Have you made the decision to go with another hybrid, or have you decided to move away from hybrids? 

Let us know in the Comments below.


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Comments (24)
  1. I don't know why you keep trying to confuse people into believing that the Volt is an electric instead of a hybrid. Any vehicle that has a gas motor and an electric motor, whither you can plug it in or not, is a hybrid. Any vehicle that just has an electric motor is an ev; any vehicle that just has a gas motor is an ICE. Why do you keep trying to confuse people, how much is GM paying you to do that?

    The report also said that some hybrid owners switched to electric or an ICE because they no longer want to pay a gas bill and an electric bill too; which that makes sense.

  2. I think the reason the Volt is referred to as an EV is because people tend to use it like an EV, i.e. most miles put on the vehicle get their power from grid electricity, not gasoline.

    That difference makes the Volt distinctly different from hybrids like the Prius that get all their energy from gasoline. So I think it makes sense to use a different term for the Volt than the Prius.

    As for the "how much is GM paying you..." that seems like a bit much. Unless you have some evidence that Nikki is doing anything other than expressing her honest opinion, let's hold such comments back. And yes, it is a sad day when I have to be the voice of moderation on in the comment section.

  3. If you wanna call the Volt a hybrid, call it a series hybrid. A Prius or other typical gas hybrid would be a parallel hybrid. The difference being is in a series hybrid like the Volt, the electric motor and battery can provide all power without any gas at all. You can drive the Volt without a single drop of gas in the tank, and it doesn't hurt anything except range. After the battery is drained, the gas motor can then feed the electric motor (it rarely drives the wheels themselves) to keep the car going. A Prius for example uses both gas and battery at all times, and except in very low speed situations, both engines must run together. And yes, we own and love our '12 Volt! We will not go backwards in tech ever again!

  4. I own a Prius. I'm never going back to a normal car. I've been spoiled by the mechanical simplicity and low maintenance of the Prius.

  5. The Prius is one of the most mechanically complex cars on the road. OTOH it's a testimony to Toyota's standards of engineering and build quality that it's not much higher-maintenance.

  6. I see the Hybrid as stepping stone to a full electric vehicle. So I just purchased a 2012 Mitsubishi 'i' rather than replacing my 2002 Toyota Prius with another Hybrid. Why would I buy another Hybrid when I can get 112 MPG equivalent from a EV. Toyota would be smart to offer a full electric vehicle in the near future.

  7. I'm a 04 Prius owner and I have bought 2 cars since, a 06 Civic for my wife, then a 2011 Leaf. But its not because I don't like the Prius, in fact I sold the Civic when I bought the Leaf and now my wife drives the Prius, it is just such a good car that we kept it!

  8. I wonder if another reason might be they were unhappy with mediocre results from some hybrids not living up to Prius claims.

  9. 35% loyalty to hybrids, is shockingly low. It may suggest that the hybrid value proposition is low or people's commitment to environmental causes (or domestic security) is low.

    However, the survey doesn't seem to indicate how many people they talked to or what they were trading in. If these are primarily Prius Gen 1 or Insight Gen 1 owners, then it is less surprising that people are looking more widely at alternatives.

    It does seem that the lack of a hybrid mini-van might be a big problem for people with a growing family that want to stay with a hybrid.

  10. I also think that the Volt should be classified as a hybrid, simply because it uses electricity and gas. This is really no brainer. If not when are you going to say that a rechargeable hybrid is an EV, after an electric autonomy of 20, 30, 50,100 miles? Classifying the Volt as an EV seems to be more like a sale pitch, thank a logical decision.

  11. Classifying the Volt as a hybrid would seem derogatory as it would make it sound no different that a Prius, which it certainly is. I agree that it is a problem to call something like the plug-in Prius and electric vehicle, because of its shockingly low electric range. However, with 40 miles of range, the Volt is more of an EV.

  12. Unless the country has an epiphany and trades fuel sippers like the immensely popular Honda Fit in for a relatively meager gain in fuel efficiency, the Toyota Prius is doomed. Hybrids require a loyalty, or they fade away. If Prius owners are trading their car in every two years, they are throwing any cash saved away and are hurting the environment by wasting resources and energy required to make a new Prius.

  13. I don't think it is wasting resources because some people choose or can't afford a new car but would like to have a hybrid like me. If people drove all their hybrids to the ground to buy a new one, then their won't be a market available for those who choose to buy something cheaper. By having hybrids available in most price ranges, new and used, the more popular the hybrid will be. I think that is why the Toyota Prius will most likely continue to have an edge on the compatition is because of the amount of time they have been out verses the other auto makers. If it wasn't for my used 2005 Toyota Prius that cost me $8500, I wouldn't have one today! I am not paying $40000 for a hybrid. When I need another, I will buy another used one.

  14. I was referring to people that buy a new car every two years. It can be very smart to buy a used car unless you get a lemon. My point is that so many people replace their year-old Prius with a new Prius that loses a lot of its value as they drive it off the dealership lot. It is pointless to try to save money on gas when new car owners lose money by constantly trading it in. This is great for you but doesn't make sense for new car buyers that are supposedly buying it to save gas/money/the world. That is the nature of the car business. Their loss is your gain, though.

  15. I agree they are at a loss when buying any new vehicle every couple of years. But there are people out there that do that and don't make any financial sense and there are others that don't make wise financial decisions with credit too. But thanks to all those who are taking a loss, because I would have a gain because of it!! :-) I guess if everyone was financially smarter, it would make it harder for those of us who are looking for that deal out there!! Good luck to all those that want a deal. They're out there. Just look hard. I got 106000 miles on my Prius, and plan on many more! Love this car cause it saves me money at 51 mpg!!

  16. Doesn't trading in a hybrid for another hybrid defeat the whole point of driving a hybrid in the first place? Unless you have driven the wheels off your Prius, you really haven't gotten your money's worth out of the car. I will have to drive my Golf TDI about 55,000 miles before I offset the cost of the diesel engine upgrade. I drive my cars until they are unsafe to drive and cost too much to repair, so I will get my money back (Continued below).

  17. Funny but I ran the same TDI vs gas engine numbers on a Jetta Sportwagon 6MT and the break even point was around 170,000 miles.

    Used the EPA numbers, MSRP, and fuel prices. ~$2200 TDI savings over 200,000 miles.

    Not critical of the car 'cause I plan to buy one.

  18. The EPA numbers don't reflect what the car will really do. I have been averaging 45 - 47 mpg since I got the car. It will get between 60-70 mpg on the freeway. The EPA numbers seem to overestimate gasoline car mileage and underestimate diesel car mileage.

  19. Getting your money's worth out of a car can have a variety of meanings. I don't think it's just savings on gas mileage, versus a regular gas car. Let's say a person is looking at 2 gas cars, the choice between 2 models usually comes down to which one they like better (style, power, intangibles). Why do hybrid cars that use less gas have to pay you back when gas cars never do? Isn't using less gas and the feeling of contributing to less pollution, or using foreign oil enough of a "pay-back"? It's like my solar panels. I got them so I would be generating my own electricity from the sun, not so it would pay me back. The real pay-back is knowing I'm using less oil in my daily life and the good feeling it gives me.

  20. I use an electric recumbent bike for 90% of all my trips, and my car(94 Hyundai Excel-40MPG highway) gets great gas mileage SITTING IN THE DRIVE WAY!!!!

  21. I don't know why anyone would go back from a hybrid drivetrain unless they required a large towing vehicle, or a large people-mover. They are superior even aside from the fuel economy! I upgraded to the Volt. I still consider it to be a "hybrid." :)

  22. I don't think the fact that people aren't trading one hybrid for another is an indictment of hybrids, just the result of more efficient ICE vehicles. Just as ICE efficiency has grown over the last few years I think we'll soon see 70mpg hybrids with the development of better batteries and and drivetrains. Afterall, if manufacturers now have the technology to make 40mpg ICE's, they should be able to get better efficiency from hybrids also.

  23. I think the reason why some people consider a Volt as an electric vehicle than a hybrid is because people consider a hybrid as a parallel hybrid where a gas engine and an electric motor drive the wheels. The Volt is all driven by the electric motor driven by a battery. It is plugged in to be charged like an EV. All the gas engine does is charge the battery when the plugin electricity is depleted an the driver wants to continue to drive without being stranded. It is a backup generator design for an EV, driven like an EV.

  24. I own a TCH and as soon as it's paid for I plan to purchase another car, but I expect it will be an electric car or a PIH that can get all or the vast majority of my commute (45mi) on electric only.

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