Green Guilt: Most Hybrid Owners Don't Buy One Again

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- Auto owners looking to go green may want to take notice of a new report out by noting hybrid owners don't repeat that purchase when looking for a new set of wheels.

That's not stopping brand new buyers from grabbing a fuel-efficient vehicle. According to Wards Auto, U.S. vehicles that averaged more than 30 miles per gallon accounted for 11.8% of all new car sales in the U.S. in March. That's up from 4.3% from the same time last year.
The more carmakers focus on improving the gas mileage of non-hybrid vehicles, the more consumers are turning away from hybrids.

It's what happens when hybrid owners want to buy a new car that makes the Edmunds report so interesting.

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The online auto trading site surveyed drivers in Boston and found that only 38.4% of Beantown drivers who owned a hybrid would buy another one.

The automotive market research firm R.L. Polk, which conducted the Edmunds Boston drivers' study, also says that only 35% of hybrid car owners bought another electric/gas vehicle as a trade-in during 2011.

The fact that only about one-third of hybrid owners would repeat the hybrid experience is surprising, given the positive press coverage "green" vehicles enjoy.

"Even as gas prices soar, the economics of buying a hybrid vehicle don't make much sense in many cases," Chief Economist Lacey Plache explained in a statement. "The lineup of hybrid vehicles and their premium price points just aren't appealing enough to consumers, especially given the growing strength of fuel economy among compact and midsize competitors."

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Reading between the lines, it would seem hybrid buyers buy their vehicles not just for altruistic reasons, but to save money on gas prices, too. The average cost of a gallon of gas in Philadelphia-- a good benchmark for the rest of the country - is currently $3.98, according to the American Automobile Association.

"Having a hybrid in the product lineup can certainly give a brand a competitive edge when it comes to attracting new customers," notes Brad Smith, director of Polk's Loyalty Management Practice. "(But) the repurchase rates of hybrid vehicles are an indication that consumers are continuing to seek alternative solutions to high fuel prices."

Edmunds posits the theory that drivers are finding "attractive and affordable gasoline-powered" alternatives that look and drive better than hybrids, but also offer those fuel savings drives are looking for. Altogether, the auto industry has upped the volume on fuel-efficient vehicles, with a 30% increase in the availability of new cars - gas-powered and hybrid - that offer drivers more than 30 miles per gallon in 2011 and 2012.

The 40-mpg category has risen from one vehicle in 2010 (the Smart ForTwo) to nine vehicles in 2012, Edmunds reports.

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So maybe it's not as much a knock on hybrid vehicles as it is the auto industry doing a better job on providing options that include great fuel efficiency.

Nevertheless, auto consumers are increasingly thinking about the green in their wallets instead of just a green environment.