Sales of hybrid vehicles are down this year, although that may be partly attributed to supply shortages following the disaster in Japan this year. Chicago-based research firm Mintel, however, suggests that automakers with alternative-powertrain vehicles might want to think about how they are marketing these vehicles to diverse demographics.
The firm says 12.5% of African-Americans own a hybrid or electric vehicle; 36% would be "most interested" in buying a hybrid or electric vehicle for their next purchase; and 26% are unsure about their next purchase.
Black respondents to Mintel's survey were also the most willing to spend an additional $3,000 to $5,000 to purchase a hybrid or electric vehicle, and 31% said they would spend an additional $1,000 to $3,000 on a hybrid or electric version of a vehicle. African-Americans more than any other demographic said they would be proud to own a hybrid or electric vehicle.
“Most believe the profile of the hybrid vehicle owner is a person between the ages of 35 and 55, with a household income over $75,000, and a college education or higher. While this may be the current owner, the biggest potential in the market is with black consumers,” says George Augustaitis, senior automotive analyst at Mintel, in a statement.
“With the low ownership numbers of hybrid and electric vehicles among Black shoppers, the optimistic statements about pride of ownership and willingness to spend more suggest there is pent-up demand amongst Black consumers for hybrids and electric vehicles,” he said, adding that sales and ownership numbers, far lower than one would expect from the survey responses, suggest that "there are no hybrid or electric vehicles on the market that are appealing to the Black population.”
Mintel research also found that 26% of Black respondents are very concerned about carbon emissions, and 30% agree that new electric engines in cars like the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf are amazing feats of engineering. Hybrid and electric automobile marketers would be wise to go after this under-targeted demographic.
Meanwhile, Mintel notes that the hybrid market isn't what it used to be, thanks to softer sales. The market for hybrid vehicles fell to 274,508 units in 2010, the third straight year of falling sales. While sales continue to fall, the rate of decline is slowing.
"Volume sales are expected to pick up in 2011, and the market is expected to return to growth as the market matures and fears of the recession start to fade," says the study.
Mintel says this year, with economic uncertainty and weak employment numbers, the hybrid market will come in flat. "However, looking toward the end of the forecast horizon, the hybrid market will start its rebound in 2012, and is expected to experience year-over-year gains achieving sales of 400,000 units in 2014," says the firm.