DETROIT -- 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.
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.