2012 Toyota Prius C hybrid - front three-quarter view, orange

How much do hybrid drivers really, truly like their cars? According to R.L. Polk, not all that much – at least not in 2011.

Polk has released a new hybrid loyalty analysis that concludes that only 35 percent of people who bought a hybrid bought another one last year. The data comes from car purchases made in 2011, and Polk found that Toyota Prius drivers are the most loyal, both to the gas-electric technology and to Toyota itself. Sixty percent of Toyota hybrid owners bought another vehicle from the automaker, even if it wasn't a hybrid. A recent J.D. Power Customer Retention Study found that the average brand loyalty was 49 percent, but that doesn't take powertrains into account.

According to Polk, forty-one percent of Toyota hybrid drivers choose to buy another hybrid (from any brand). Interestingly, when Polk took out these Toyota buyers from their results, hybrid loyalty rates dropped to "under 25 percent. However, in our book that's kind of skewing the numbers, since most hybrids sold in the U.S. are built by Toyota. When looking only at Honda hybrid drivers, for example, 52 percent bought another Honda and "just under 20 percent" purchased another hybrid (from any brand). The in-brand loyalty, says Brad Smith, director of Polk's Loyalty Management Practice, shows that hybrids "can certainly give a brand a competitive edge when it comes to attracting new customers."

What's perhaps most interesting is that changes in gas prices, "had little impact on hybrid segment loyalty," according to Polk. In the company's quarterly hybrid analysis from 2008 through 2011, loyalty rates ranged from 26.4 to 41.8 percent, but spent most of the time in the 30s. See more details of the study in the official Polk press release by scrolling below.
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Only 35 Percent of Hybrid Owners Buying Hybrids Again, says Polk
Higher fuel prices not yet impacting hybrid category's loyalty rates

Monday, April 9, 2012

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. (April 9, 2012) -- While the selection of hybrid models in the U.S. has more than doubled since 2007, only 35 percent of hybrid vehicle owners choose to purchase a hybrid again when returning to market in 2011, according to recent analysis by Polk (See Table A). If repurchase behavior among the high volume audience of Toyota Prius owners isn't factored in, hybrid loyalty drops to under 25 percent.

However, hybrid owners appear to maintain brand loyalty when returning to the new car market. For example, in 2011, 60 percent of Toyota hybrid owners returned to the market to purchase another Toyota, according to Polk, while 41 percent of them purchased another hybrid from any brand. In the case of Honda hybrid owners, more than 52 percent of them stayed with the Honda brand, while just under 20 percent of this same owner group bought another hybrid vehicle from any brand.

"Having a hybrid in the product lineup can certainly give a brand a competitive edge when it comes to attracting new customers," noted Brad Smith, director of Polk's Loyalty Management Practice. "The repurchase rates of hybrid vehicles are an indication that consumers are continuing to seek alternative solutions to high fuel prices."

Online cross-shopping data from Edmunds.com indicates that consumers are doing their due diligence to compare hybrids with similar gasoline-powered vehicles. As an example, the Honda Civic is the second most cross-shopped vehicle among both Toyota Prius and Honda Insight shoppers.

Hybrid vehicles represent just 2.4 percent of the overall new vehicle market in the U.S., according to Polk, down from a high of 2.9 percent in 2008.

"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," according to Lacey Plache, Edmunds.com chief economist. "For EVs and PHEVs in particular, certain obstacles -- including consumer unease with unfamiliar technology and the lack of an adequate recharging infrastructure -- will need to be overcome before sales increase."

Polk's research also indicates that volatility in fuel prices between 2008 and 2011, which ranged from just under $2.00/gallon to nearly $4.00/gallon, had little impact on hybrid segment loyalty. As fuel prices continue to rise, Polk will be working closely with its customers to continue to analyze the impact.

Surprisingly, Polk also found that consumers in traditional eco-friendly markets in the U.S. (e.g. Los Angeles, San Diego, Portland, Ore. and Seattle) are no more loyal to hybrid vehicles than the nation at large. A list of the top 15 markets by hybrid loyalty is included in Table B

Table A. Quarterly Hybrid Segment Loyalty 2008-2011
Quarter Hybrid Segment Loyalty
Q1 2008 39.8%
Q2 2008 32.8%
Q3 2008 33.5%
Q4 2008 35.2%
Q1 2009 34.7%
Q2 2009 41.8%
Q3 2009 39.8%
Q4 2009 40.7%
Q1 2010 36.6%
Q2 2010 40.4%
Q3 2010 38.7%
Q4 2010 39.8%
Q1 2011 40.8%
Q2 2011 26.4%
Q3 2011 30.9%
Q4 2011 40.1%

Source: Polk

Table B. Hybrid Segment Loyalty by DMA (Top 15*)
Market Hybrid Segment Loyalty
(2011 Calendar Year End)
West Palm Beach, FL 43.2%
Phoenix, AZ 40.2%
Orlando, FL 39.9%
Tampa, FL 39.9%
St. Louis, MO 38.4%
Boston, MA 38.4%
Indianapolis, IN 37.3%
Minneapolis, MN 36.7%
Seattle, WA 36.2%
Raleigh-Durham, NC 36.1%
Milwaukee, WI 35.9%
Washington, D.C. 35.6%
San Diego, CA 35.4%
Portland, OR 34.8%
Los Angeles, CA 34.1%
Overall U.S. 35%
Source: Polk

* Note: This table represents hybrid loyalty rates in the top 15 markets in which a minimum of 500 hybrid owners returned to market in 2011.

About Polk's Loyalty Management Practice

Polk's Loyalty Management Practice aids manufacturers and retailers in effectively managing owner loyalty through the in-depth analysis of automotive shopping behaviors and related market influencers. Polk's analyses cover the entire U.S. market, and can identify likely defectors, before they leave, providing the opportunity to re-win their business prior to defection actually taking place. The practice is solely focused on helping manufacturers and dealers in retaining their owners through Polk's diagnostic, predictive and advisory services.

Polk's solutions identify the key areas and potential causal factors influencing owner loyalty and are applied in the sales, service, finance and marketing functions within the automotive industry.

About Polk

Polk is the premier provider of automotive information and marketing solutions. The organization collects and interprets global data, and provides extensive automotive business expertise to help customers understand their market position, identify trends, build brand loyalty, conquest new business and gain a competitive advantage. Polk helps automotive manufacturers and dealers, automotive aftermarket companies, finance and insurance companies, advertising agencies, media companies, consulting organizations, government agencies and market research firms make good business decisions. A privately held global firm, Polk is based in Southfield, Michigan with operations in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.