Excluding owners of the best-selling Toyota Prius, the repurchase rate among other hybrid buyers dropped to 22 percent, according to a Polk study released today.
The statistics show little traction in keeping hybrid owners behind the wheel of new hybrids. According to the study, the loyalty rate was 35.2 percent in 2008. It rose to 39.6 percent in 2009, fell to 38.9 percent in 2010, and plunged back to 35.0 percent in 2011.
But there is some good news for manufacturers who have invested heavily into developing hybrid technology, said Brad Smith, director of Polk's loyalty management practice.
Hybrids seem to attract new buyers to brands, and they may also help brands retain customers, he said.
"It's a great conquesting tool for brands," Smith said in a phone interview, calling hybrid technology "a competitive edge when it comes to attracting new customers."
That is especially true for Toyota, a hybrid pioneer that has expanded its Prius hybrid line to three body styles and just added a plug-in version.
Polk said in 2011, 60 percent of Prius owners back in the market bought a Toyota brand vehicle. The study also found that 41 percent of the Prius owners back in the market either bought another Prius or a hybrid from another automaker.
For Honda hybrid owners, 52 percent stayed with the Honda brand, but less than one in five bought another hybrid from any brand.
Competition with conventionals
Smith said the biggest challenge for hybrid makers is that less expensive conventional fuel-efficiency technologies are also advancing rapidly, reducing the fuel-efficiency advantage of more expensive hybrids.
That may be why hybrids accounted for just 2.4 percent of total U.S. auto sales last year, down from 2.9 percent in a peak of 2.9 percent in 2008.
"The premium price points for hybrids are just too high when so many conventional small and mid-size cars have improved fuel economy," Smith said.
This was the first time Polk has conducted a study of hybrid buyers returning to the market.
Only 35 Percent of Hybrid Owners Buying Hybrids Again, says Polk
Higher fuel prices not yet impacting hybrid category's loyalty rates
Monday, April 9, 2012
SOUTHFIELD, Mich. (April 9, 2012) -- While the selection of hybrid models in the U.S. has more than doubled since 2007, only 35 percent of hybrid vehicle owners choose to purchase a hybrid again when returning to market in 2011, according to recent analysis by Polk. If repurchase behavior among the high volume audience of Toyota Prius owners isn't factored in, hybrid loyalty drops to under 25 percent.
However, hybrid owners appear to maintain brand loyalty when returning to the new car market. For example, in 2011, 60 percent of Toyota hybrid owners returned to the market to purchase another Toyota, according to Polk, while 41 percent of them purchased another hybrid from any brand. In the case of Honda hybrid owners, more than 52 percent of them stayed with the Honda brand, while just under 20 percent of this same owner group bought another hybrid vehicle from any brand.
"Having a hybrid in the product lineup can certainly give a brand a competitive edge when it comes to attracting new customers," noted Brad Smith, director of Polk's Loyalty Management Practice. "The repurchase rates of hybrid vehicles are an indication that consumers are continuing to seek alternative solutions to high fuel prices."
Online cross-shopping data from Edmunds.com indicates that consumers are doing their due diligence to compare hybrids with similar gasoline-powered vehicles. As an example, the Honda Civic is the second most cross-shopped vehicle among both Toyota Prius and Honda Insight shoppers.
Hybrid vehicles represent just 2.4 percent of the overall new vehicle market in the U.S., according to Polk, down from a high of 2.9 percent in 2008.
"The lineup 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 midsize competitors," according to Lacey Plache, Edmunds.com chief economist. "For EVs and PHEVs 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."
Polk's research also indicates that volatility in fuel prices between 2008 and 2011, which ranged from just under $2.00/gallon to nearly $4.00/gallon, had little impact on hybrid segment loyalty. As fuel prices continue to rise, Polk will be working closely with its customers to continue to analyze the impact.
Surprisingly, Polk also found that consumers in traditional eco-friendly markets in the U.S. (e.g. Los Angeles, San Diego, Portland, Ore. and Seattle) are no more loyal to hybrid vehicles than the nation at large.
Toyota seems to eschew the stats...