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Hybrid vehicle owners rev down

The Hyundai Sonata hybrid car on display at the 2012 Washington Auto Show at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. Only a little more than a third of hybrid vehicle owners decided to buy another hybrid in 2011, according to a new study.

Kai Ryssdal: The people who make hybrid cars aren't gonna like this, but here you go. Turns out hybrid car owners just aren't that loyal. So says a new survey from the auto consultants R.L. Polk. They found only 35 percent of hybrid owners bought another hybrid when they went new car shopping last year. Polk didn't ask why. So we did.

From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Sarah Gardner reports.


Sarah Gardner: Auto analyst Michelle Krebs at Edmunds.com has a hunch. She says nowadays, hybrids have stiff competition. And it’s the good 'ol gasoline engine.

Michelle Krebs: There are a ton of new vehicles that get 30 and 40 miles per gallon.

And those fuel-efficent, gasoline cars generally cost less than hybrids. Bill Underriner sells cars in Billings, Mont. He says his Hyundai customers are more interested in the conventional Sonata than the hybrid version.

Bill Underriner: Because there’s only three or four miles per gallon difference.

Actually five. But the suggested retail price for the hybrid costs $6,000 more. Rebecca Lindland at IHS Automotive says hybrid-makers have also over-promised on fuel economy in the past and maybe it’s come back to bite them. Remember when an angry hybrid Civic owner sued Honda over her mpg?

Rebecca Lindland: The plaintiff said, you promised me 50 miles per gallon and she never got above 41 or maybe 42 even on her very best days.

One expert speculated some hybrid owners now want a car they can pass on to their underemployed kids. But it’s not clear a hybrid battery would last long enough. When we asked hybrid owners on Twitter today, why most don’t buy one the second time around, tweeter Dan Goldman didn’t need 140 characters to give us his opinion. He simply typed in dollar signs.

I’m Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

About the author

Sarah Gardner is a reporter on the Marketplace sustainability desk covering sustainability news spots and features.
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When I leased my current Toyota Prius, I had to rationalize the higher cost relative to the other model I was considering. Gasoline prices where around $2.50, and I calculated that my average monthly gasoline bill was $150. The Prius was going to give my twice the MPG, thus saving me $75 per month. Taking this $75 from the pump and paying it to Toyota was an easy decision.

And here comes the main point for me: When the price of gasoline rises (and I can barely remember $2.50/gal), I FEEL SMARTER FOR THAT DECISION, even if I pay more out of my pocket. This is worth money to me.

And no, I do not see myself going back to a conventional gasoline-powered car when my current lease expires.

Why was there never any discussion in the story of the lower emissions of hybrids? It appeared from your story that the only valid comparison is mpg, and thus cost of gas vs cost of car is all that is important. Some of us also choose hybrids because of this additional benefit for the environment. I am a Prius owner and don't see myself ever owning anything but a hybrid (or, perhaps, electric someday, when they have a longer range).

In addition to the items mentioned by 'rjfogarty' , I was surprised to hear you using the same mpg comparison 'trick' used in the advertising world; comparing highway MPG only. Hybrids don't do much better that a gas car on the highway. Where they shine is in-town where most Americans drive most of the time. When I'm sitting at a stoplight in my hybrid Escape I'm using ZERO gasoline. The gas-onlyEscape next to me is burning fuel at almost the same rate he would be if he were driving 45mph.

I am also wondering where the original study got its numbers from. I have actual purchase data and the percentage of cars purchased that are hybrids or plugins has been increasing since June of 2011 (from 1.42% of cars then to 3.74% of all cars now). While these numbers represent ALL purchases and they still amount to a small fraction of total purchase, it shows that a potential buyer is MORE likely to buy a hybrid or plugin now, not less.

Your report on hybrid vehicles was amongst the worst I've ever heard on NPR. Why? You seem to have taken the bias to intentionally misstate the facts. Herebelow are the first two sentences from the daily auto journal Automotive News as written by Jesse Snyder:
"Almost two-thirds of U.S. hybrid buyers returning to the market in 2011 chose something besides another hybrid.

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."

Nowhere in your piece did you even mention the word 'Prius' or any Ford hybrid. Why is this important? Well if you had done any fact-checking at all you would have soon realized that well over 50% of the 'hybrid market' consists of Prii. When you add Ford's offerings the figure approaches 70% of total hybrid sales. As you can see from the quote above, or if you had actually done a little work and analyzed the data from RL Polk yourselves, that Prii owners do actually 're-up' on their hybrid vehicles. In fact for the majority of hybrid owners, that is the Prii owners, they are very willing to purchase another hybrid vehicle. In fact they often do it several times.

Thus it seems that you intentionally misconstrued the facts by not mentioning this HUGE exception to your biased slant. This is important because as the auto industry has found 'hybrid vehicle' is becoming synonymous with 'Prius' in the public's mind. You completely ignored the Prius in your piece.

The correct direction for your piece would have been very informative rather than a fluff piece based on biases.

'Except for Toyota's Prius, Hybrid Owners Rev Down. Why?'

The reason is contained in your piece. For the other hybrid vehicles such as the Civic, Malibu, Sonata, etc the fuel savings are at best nominal the Toyota and Ford models offer significant savings and their owners are far more loyal.

How could you possibly ignore as much as 70% of the market, not even mention it in your piece, and as a result misconstrue the facts to render such an invalid conclusion? This was lazy reporting, lazy writing, lazy editting and it appears intentionally presented to be slanted and biased. I don't think that you should be proud of this junk.

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