The End of the Hybrid?

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Nowadays, the economy is still sluggish, so households are trying to stretch their dollars as far as they can go. Also, gasoline prices are still staying high, with motorists paying over $4 a gallon in many places. Fortunately, the cost of hybrid technology has come down, and there are numerous gas-hybrid or fully electric vehicle choices that are available in a variety of price ranges.

Given these conditions, Americans should be switching to hybrid cars, trucks, and SUVs while eschewing gas-guzzling vehicles… right?

Wrong

A new R.L. Polk study reveals that hybrid technology still hasn’t caught on with the average consumer — even those who have bought alternative fuel vehicles. Of the hybrid vehicle owners who traded in their vehicles for a new model in 2011, only 35% purchased another hybrid. Interestingly, though, this percentage varied depending on the type of hybrid they owned before:

  • If the last hybrid was made by Honda, only 20% bought another hybrid (from Honda or anyone else).
  • Toyota Prius owners were most satisfied with the technology, with 41% choosing to put another hybrid in their garage.

In addition, the overall percentage of hybrid vehicle sales slipped to 2.4% of all of the vehicles new purchased in 2011.

What Gives?
So why aren’t Americans fleeing from gas combustion vehicles to their hybrid counterparts in droves? One word: money.

Hybrid vehicles still costs thousands more than their comparable gasoline-powered counterparts (which can also increase auto insurance premiums). The problem is that it takes so long for a hybrid owner to recoup that extra cost in fuel savings — as long as 7 to 10 years in many cases. Although hybrid technology engineers are working hard to reduce this so-called "payback period," most hybrid owners are opting to save money up front by purchasing a lower-priced gasoline-powered vehicle. In other words, the idea of helping the environment is taking a back seat to staying within one’s budget.

There’s also another factor driving this trend. Automakers are introducing traditional vehicles which are capable of achieving fuel economy ratings that are close (or equal) to those associated with hybrids. Plus, there are some diesel-powered vehicles that are recording competitive gas mileage figures as well. When consumers compare MPG ratings on stickers, they’re wondering why they should saddle themselves with a higher monthly car payment just so they can have the privilege of owning a hybrid.

So What’s Next?
What does all of this mean for the future of the hybrid? It really depends on where the next technological breakthrough comes. If makers of hybrid vehicles can cut the payback period for gasoline-electric hybrids, or of they can expand their selection of product which run on electricity alone, then hybrids might begin to increase their market share with repeat buyers.

However, if engineers can continue to improve traditional gas combustion engines and make them efficient enough to outperform hybrids at the gas pumps, then the era of the hybrid might come to a sudden end.

Image: blog.automotiveaddicts.com

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