Fuel prices no longer trigger hybrid desire, study says

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LOS ANGELES -- The price of gasoline has skyrocketed this year, so consumers are clamoring to buy tiny, fuel-efficient vehicles, right?

Well, not so much, according to a study of buyer behavior conducted by the consultant firm AutoPacific.

“Small car and hybrid consideration is not tracking anywhere near the rate of the price of fuel as it did in 2008,” AutoPacific President George Peterson said at a symposium here.

Only 21 percent of car owners would seriously consider a hybrid or a compact car such as a Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus or Volkswagen Jetta. That is down from 34 percent when gasoline prices peaked in 2008. The results are based on an AutoPacific survey of 68,000 consumers in the first quarter.

Peterson described the summer 2008 gasoline price spike as a “panic.” Consumers rushed to buy Toyota Priuses and unloaded Chevrolet Suburbans for crossover wagons with better fuel economy.

He said consumers are aware that prices plunged later that year. And many also cited improvements in fuel economy since then, allowing them to stick with larger vehicles that fit their lifestyle. Also, AutoPacific data show that increased interest in compact cars has more to do with higher-performance engines and increased content than the need for better fuel economy.

Still, compact and hybrid vehicles are expected to grow as a segment. Hybrid vehicles, including mild hybrids, will grow from 300,000 units this year to 1.3 million units in 2016, AutoPacific forecasts. But that growth also reflects that hybrid systems will become ubiquitous.

This consumer sentiment may also prevent electric vehicles from gaining more of a presence, said AutoPacific consultant Ed Kim.

“We’re seeing tech enthusiasts, green enthusiasts, and people interested in EVs not because they are saving money,” Kim said, “but because they are enthusiastic about the technology.”

Read more: http://www.autonews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20110617/RETAIL01/110619872/1186#ixzz1PcL4LsWD
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