While the choice of fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles for sale in the United States continues to grow, more buyers than not are deciding against the technology when they go to buy another car.
Only 35 percent of hybrid vehicle owners chose to purchase a hybrid again when they returned to the market in 2011, according to auto information company R.L. Polk & Co. If you factor out the super-loyal Toyota Prius buyers, the repurchase rate drops to under 25 percent.
Consumers in regions such as Southern California and Seattle, where hybrid sales are strongest, are no more likely to be repeat customers than buyers in other parts of the nation, according to the Polk study.
It's hard to know what's causing the low repurchase rate. One reason is that about 17,000 people purchased electric cars last year, and other data shows that many of those were trading in a hybrid vehicle. Honda has been hounded by high-profile class-action and small claims court lawsuits over fuel economy issues with older models of its Civic hybrid.
Online cross-shopping data from auto information company Edmunds.com shows that buyers typically compare hybrids with similar conventionally powered vehicles. For example, the conventional Honda Civic is the second most cross-shopped car by people who also are looking at the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight hybrid models.
"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," said Lacey Plache, Edmunds.com chief economist.
Hybrid vehicles represent just 2.4 percent of the overall new vehicle market in the United States, according to Polk, down from a high of 2.9 percent in 2008.
Toyota continues to lead the hybrid parade. Its expanded Prius line, which now includes the "v" station wagon and the "c" subcompact, is selling well this year. Last year, Toyota sold 136,463 Priuses despite supply problems related to the Japanese earthquake. No other hybrid was anywhere close. Ford, for example, sold only 11,286 of the Fusion hybrid.