NEW YORK (TheStreet) — Goodbye Prius, hello Hummer.
An Edmunds.com study has found that a record share of hybrid and electric-car owners are swapping their "green" models for sport utility vehicles as low fuel prices make gas guzzlers less expensive to operate.
"For better or worse, it looks like [green-car] owners are driven more by financial motives rather than a responsibility to the environment," Edmunds senior analyst Jessica Caldwell says. "With today's gas prices as low as they are, the math [for eco-friendly cars] just doesn't make a very compelling case."
Edmunds analyzed 2012-15 auto sales and found that the share of hybrid and electric-car buyers who went with a green model again at trade-in time dropped to just 45% as of this year's first quarter.
That's down from 60% in 2012, as well as the first time that less than half of green consumers stuck with hybrids, plug-in hybrids or electric cars when trading in their old models.
In fact, Edmunds found that some 22% of green-car owners actually swapped their eco-friendly rides for that bane of tree huggers' existence: the SUV. That's nearly double the 11.9% green-car-to-SUV rate seen just three years ago.
Boston-area auto dealer Brian Kelly says eco-friendly cars only sell well at his Kelly Auto Group's nine showrooms when gas prices approach $4 a gallon — well above the $2.72 average that U.S. drivers face today.
"Sales are way down — and look at all of the incentives people have to offer to sell [green models]," he says. "You can't sell an electric car unless it has $5,000, $6,000 or $7,000 of [tax breaks and automaker incentives], and the manufacturers say they lose money on every single one."