Is the hybrid hype dying down?

Jul 10, 2014

People may talk about wanting to be environmentally friendly but, when it comes to buying new cars, the data show they aren't spending their green on being green.

Car buyers don’t actually end up buying hybrids and electrics even though they say it’s important to them.

"Hybrids and plugins tend to be more expensive," says Sonari Glinton, NPR’s auto reporter. The advance drive market [hybrids, electric vehicles, plugin hybrids] has accounted for 3.6% of the market in the first half of 2014, a decline when compared to 3.8 % in the first half of 2013. Glinton says this market plateau is partially because shoppers are acclimating to higher gas prices. He thinks the other reason is "the novelty of these [hybrid] cars has worn off, so it's not like there's a big new electric car that people are like 'oh I gotta go out and buy that car.' "

"When people make a choice between one SUV and another SUV they absolutely are going to choose the more fuel-efficient SUV. But they're not going to take a SUV and go into a 2-seater to save on fuel economy."

Hybrid technology is expensive and the majority of car buyers are budget conscious but within reason. "When people make a choice between one SUV and another SUV they absolutely are going to choose the more fuel-efficient SUV. But they're not going to take a SUV and go into a 2-seater to save on fuel economy," Glinton says.

Resistance to 'going green'

"A lot of the talk when you think about electric cars says to the consumer, 'hey you need to change how you are acting, you need to change your range or think about how you drive differently,'" says Glinton. He thinks there's a pushback from consumers who, for the most part, like their lifestyle and aren't looking to compromise it.

Another factor is that the auto industry has to raise its fuel efficiency standards to 54.5 miles a gallon by 2024. "Every single automaker has to get more fuel efficient, whether its a hybrid or your plain old car," Glinton says. Therefore all new vehicles are much more fuel efficient than their predecessors.

 

The government's driving the green initiative

While the data show that consumers want more fuel efficient cars, Glinton doubts that data tell the full story. "Do they want a newfangled kind of car? Its a little, we're a little premature. When the technology is older and we see what it can do and we look at our lives and things start to change that may be different. If these millennials start buying cars — maybe they'll be buying different cars, but right now, yes, the government is definitely leading the charge."