Hybrid vehicle owners rev down

Sarah Gardner Apr 10, 2012

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.

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