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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