Feelings Mixed for Hybrids

Consumers express concerns about current gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles, but many feel hybrid technology is the wave of the future, according to Kelley Blue Book Marketing Research. Its new-vehicle buyer attitudes study shows shoppers' top concerns center on service and longevity issues, although many shoppers also believe these matters will be resolved over time. There also is consumer skepticism

Consumers express concerns about current gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles, but many feel hybrid technology is the wave of the future, according to Kelley Blue Book Marketing Research.

Its new-vehicle buyer attitudes study shows shoppers' top concerns center on service and longevity issues, although many shoppers also believe these matters will be resolved over time.

There also is consumer skepticism regarding hybrids. More than half of consumers say they are either not interested in hybrids or feel they need to know more about the technology.

Despite the fact that hybrids have been the darling of the general media, vehicle shoppers are somewhat wary of the new systems.

Sixty-one percent of consumers said they are very concerned about the difficulty and expense of fixing the complicated technology of hybrids, and 55% said they are very concerned about hybrids' limited battery-pack life.

Consumers rated these concerns significantly higher than more publicized issues, such as hybrids failing to deliver the level of gas mileage promised or failing to offer adequate driving performance.

“Although they've been hyped in the media, the average consumer still questions whether hybrids are for them,” says Jack R. Nerad, editorial director and executive market analyst for Kelley Blue Book. “Issues such as repair complexity and cost and battery-pack replacement are much harder to swallow than not getting the gas mileage or performance you'd originally thought.

“Based on the results of this study, it seems the auto manufacturers still have work to do before alleviating consumer concerns about the long-term viability of current hybrid technology.”

Although consumers are expressing concerns about today's hybrids, they do have an optimistic outlook on hybrids of the future. More than one-third (36%) of vehicle shoppers think that gas/electric hybrid engines will be the dominant engine type in five to 10 years, three points higher than the 33% who think that regular gasoline engines will still be dominant.

In addition, more than half of consumers think that in five to 10 years hybrids will provide higher fuel economy and offer driving performance similar to gas engines.

For consumers expressing an interest in hybrids, the average shopper is willing to pay a premium of $2,355 to purchase one. The study uncovered a core group of hybrid advocates (6% of new-vehicle shoppers) who say they will buy a hybrid vehicle regardless of the premium they might have to pay for the technology.

“Although fuel costs have reached record new heights and other studies we've recently done have indicated gas price is a major concern among consumers,” says Rick Wainschel, Kelley's vice president-marketing research.

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