Toyota, Helped by Prius, Emerges From 3-Year Funk (Update 1)
Carter noted that a dozen years after its first sale outside Japan, Prius still has "no viable competitor" in the hybrid category. Edmunds.com analyst Jessica Caldwell said Prius is the world's "most important hybrid vehicle," one that "regularly comprises more than half of the hybrid market in any given month." Global sales to date total more than 2.5 million, with nearly half of those in the U.S. Meanwhile, "the Prius C has exploded on our website, traffic-wise (and) was one of the top five most considered vehicles on our site last week," Caldwell said.
In fact, in March, three of the top four hybrids were Toyota products. After Prius, the Camry Hybrid was second with sales of 5,404; third was Hyundai Sonata Hybrid at 4,656; and fourth was Lexus CT at 2,223.
Unfortunately, this success comes with a caveat because U.S. car buyers have not exactly fallen in love with hybrids. The sector accounted for just 2.4% of U.S. sales in 2011, down from a high of 2.8% in 2008.
Furthermore, a study released Monday by Polk indicated that hybrid owners aren't big on loyalty. In 2011, only 35% of hybrid owners chose to buy another hybrid when purchasing a new car.
Sure, fuel prices are high, but Brad Smith, director of Polk's Loyalty Management Practice, said "there are a lot of solutions out there for people deciding how to save money on fuel costs, alternative fuel technologies like diesels, plug-ins, and higher miles per gallon for conventional (engines). There is no clear-cut choice, even though there are more hybrids in the marketplace, so we're not seeing people repurchase (hybrids) at a high rate." Also, he said, hybrids cost more than conventional vehicles.
Polk studied 2011 new vehicle registration data. It found that 75,000 hybrid owners bought new vehicles in 2011, and the rate at which they bought new hybrids was relatively low, even surprisingly in "traditional eco-friendly markets" like Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle and Portland, Ore.
Normally, among major brands, the percentage of car buyers who buy the same brand again, averages 48%, Smith said. Ford (F) is highest at 62%, after steadily increasing from 51% in 2006. Toyota brand loyalty is also above average at 53%.