Survey: Consumers hot for hybrids, but not E85

Consumers have a growing hankering for hybrids.

That’s according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2008 Alternative Powertrain Study, released Tuesday, July 15.

Of more than 4,000 consumers planning to buy a new vehicle in the next two years, 62 percent are considering a hybrid. That figure is up from 50 percent last year.

Mike Marshall, Power’s director of automotive emerging technologies, told Automotive News that consumers are more familiar with hybrid technology and less wary of potential problems.

“Lack of education is becoming less of an issue,” Marshall says. “People are becoming more comfortable with the technology.”

The main reason consumers weren’t considering hybrids last year was lack of familiarity with the technology, Marshall says. The number of respondents citing that reason is down 6 percent in this year’s study, and no longer the top concern.

Will it pay for itself?

Now the No. 1 issue for consumers, Marshall says, is the “premium of the powertrain.” Customers want to know whether a hybrid will pay for itself based on their driving styles, whether they’re leasing or buying, and other factors.

The study found that fewer consumers this year are interested in E85 vehicles. This year, 43 percent of consumers said they were interested, down from 47 percent last year.

The concern among consumers is that E85 vehicles, which can run on as much as 85 percent ethanol, may affect agricultural production.

Says Marshall: “As agriculture starts shifting production to ethanol, prices are going up. People are starting to get that. It’s one of many solutions out there, but it has negative consequences as well, and these consequences show up in the grocery store.”

Power’s study was conducted in May and June.

Toyota tops rankings

Along with the study, Power released its annual Automotive Environmental Index, which ranks the top 30 models based on air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy. It measures fuel economy using a 50/50 average of EPA’s figures and consumer-reported mileage.

Toyota and its Lexus brand had a combined seven vehicles in the index: six Toyotas and one Lexus.

Among the Detroit 3, General Motors had the best showing in this year’s index. GM’s Chevrolet, Pontiac and Saturn brands placed a combined six vehicles.

Ford Motor Co.’s Ford and Mercury brands had a combined three vehicles.

Chrysler LLC’s three brands were shut out of this year’s index.

Marshall says the Detroit 3 had a mixed showing this year. “Automakers are trapped in the product life cycle,” he says. “You just can’t throw a whole new consumer fleet on the market. Right now, the Detroit automakers still have heavily weighted a proportion of their consumer fleet to SUVs and trucks.”

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