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Few hybrid buyers go back for seconds: study

Two-thirds of owners of older hybrid vehicles in the US bought a conventionally powered non-hybrid vehicle when they returned to new vehicle market last year.

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A study by automotive analyst Polk found only 35 per cent of hybrid owners purchased another petrol-electric car as a replacement or secondary vehicle to their hybrid in 2011, despite the number of hybrid models on the market increasing markedly in recent years.

Toyota hybrid owners were the most likely to purchase another petrol-electric vehicle, with 41 per cent purchasing a second hybrid from Toyota or another manufacturer.

Owners of Honda hybrids were less than half as likely to purchase another hybrid from any manufacturer, with 80 per cent heading back to a vehicle powered by a conventional internal combustion engine.

Interestingly, however, hybrid buyers are more likely to remain loyal to their brand than owners of non-hybrid vehicles. In 2011, 60 per cent of Toyota hybrid owners who bought another car bought a new Toyota, closely followed by Honda, which enjoyed a loyalty rate of 52 per cent.

Sales of hybrid vehicles peaked in the US in 2008, when petrol-electric cars made up 2.9 per cent of the new vehicle market. That rate fell to 2.4 per cent last year.

Edmunds.com chief economist Lacey Plache said the advantages of hybrids and alternative energy vehicles were not clear enough for consumers at this stage.

“The line-up 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, especially given the growing strength of fuel economy among compact and mid-size competitors," Plache said.

“For EVs and PHEVs [plug-in hybrids] in particular, certain obstacles – including consumer unease with unfamiliar technology and the lack of an adequate recharging infrastructure – will need to be overcome before sales increase."

Hybrids are even less popular in Australia. Last year, petrol-electric cars accounted for just 0.9 per cent of the total new vehicle market, with sales falling from 9784 in 2010 to 8820 last year.

Last month, Toyota Australia predicted hybrid sales in Australia would turn around in 2012. Toyota launched the new Camry Hybrid, updated Prius, and all-new Prius C in March, and will add the seven-seat Prius V in May, and expects buyers from Generation Y to lead the petrol-electric charge in the coming years.