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Interest in hybrid technology is high, especially among women

November 24, 2010
Hybrids wanted in nearly all vehicle segments

Hybrid vehicle technology is getting a solid "green light" from consumers, especially among women, with 30 percent of new-vehicle buyers indicating they would "definitely" consider a hybrid electric vehicle and another 30 percent indicating a strong consideration, a J.D. Power and Associates study released this month found. Concern over fuel prices, the high level of the country's dependency on foreign fuel supplies, a federal tax incentive and concern for the environment are the primary motivators behind consumer consideration to purchase a hybrid vehicle.

The study, according to J.D. Power, answers three core industry questions about hybrid vehicles: 1) In which vehicle segments do consumers want hybrids offered? 2) What will cause them to purchase? and 3) How much are they willing to pay? Survey respondents said overwhelmingly that they want a hybrid powertrain option in the same segment as their current vehicle.

For example, a hybrid SUV is the most popular first choice vehicle segment for a hybrid option among current SUV owners, while a minivan hybrid is the first choice among minivan owners. However, regardless of the vehicle they currently own, nearly all consumers surveyed would select a midsize car as their second most popular choice for a hybrid. "A hybrid option in the high-volume midsize car segment would provide manufacturers a broad-based growth path to the mainstream market," said J.D. Power's Thad Malesh.

The No. 1 reason for considering a hybrid is concern over high fuel prices, and a detailed analysis of fuel prices indicates that, as expected, consumer interest in hybrid vehicles increases as gasoline prices rise. Though price and costs play critical roles in the acceptance of hybrid vehicle technology, the study shows there is a greater willingness to pay for hybrid vehicles than previously believed. Consumers expect to pay more for a hybrid than they would for a traditional gasoline-engine vehicle.

Some consumers, such as small-car  owners, are willing to pay more than other buyers. Of those who would consider a hybrid electric vehicle, nearly one-third indicate they still would buy one even if the savings from reduced fuel costs during their ownership period would be less than the extra cost of purchasing the hybrid option. Consumers also indicate that their appetite for hybrids would increase if the federal government helped offset some of the additional costs. Consumers not only see federal tax credits as important to their decision to purchase a hybrid, they also expect the credit to be nearly equal to the additional cost for the hybrid option over that of the gasoline-engine version.

While women tend to be substantially more interested in hybrids than men, the lack of available information and education is the main barrier for purchasing one, female respondents said. "Women definitely are interested in hybrid vehicles but are deferring their decision to purchase because they don't know enough about them," Malesh said. "Manufacturers should be working to better educate consumers on hybrid technology, especially among women." On the other hand, male new-vehicle buyers surveyed also indicate a strong interest in hybrids but are concerned that these vehicles will lack strong performance.

"The lack of consumer understanding underscores the challenges automakers face in gaining acceptance of hybrid technology," Malesh said. "Many people still think hybrid vehicles are the small, expensive, limitedrange electric vehicles that they saw or heard about in the 1990s. Approximately two years after the launch of the first hybrids in the United States, nearly one-half of the survey respondents still incorrectly believe a hybrid vehicle needs to be plugged in to recharge the battery pack." The introduction of two gasolineelectric hybrid models into the U.S. market has increased awareness of hybrid technology.

The Honda Insight and Toyota Prius, as well as other announced hybrids such as the Ford Escape, have fueled this awareness of hybrid technology to more than 80 percent of new-vehicle buyers surveyed. These first-in-market introductions have given Honda and Toyota the clear lead among new-vehicle buyers as the most technologically advanced manufacturers in the development of environmentally friendly vehicles. The results of this consumer-based study support the sales outlook outlined in a separate J.D. Power hybrid vehicle forecast, in which hybrid sales are expected to increase dramatically in the next few years and approach 500,000 vehicles per year shortly after mid-decade.

"We expect to see as many as 20 hybrid vehicle models, including cars, trucks and SUVs, at dealerships and on the road in the next four to five years," Malesh said. The Hybrid Vehicle Consumer Acceptance Study is based on responses from more than 5,200 recent new-vehicle buyers.