J.D. Power: Desire For Hybrids May Be Slowing

Sales of hybrid cars are booming, but a new version of J.D. Power & Associates' study on hybrid powertrain vehicles suggests that automakers with successful hybrid programs might want to resist resting on their laurels just yet.

The consultancy's "Alternative Powertrain Study" is a two-piece research study--both a standard survey on consumer opinion plus a portion called the Automotive Environmental Index. The latter piece takes U.S. EPA information on fuel economy, pollution and greenhouse gases for 2007 model-year cars and trucks and combines it with JD Power's survey data on how important those factors are to consumers.

Per J.D Power, 50% of new-vehicle shoppers are considering a hybrid--down from 57% last year--across all age groups. Younger vehicle shoppers--those 16 to 25 years old--are less interested in hybrids, with 60% considering a hybrid in 2007, down from 73% in 2006.

Hybrid buyers are willing to pay an average additional price of $2,396 for a car, and for that premium they expect to get 18.5 more mpg than a traditional vehicle of similar size. The 2007 Alternative Powertrain Study includes responses from more than 4,000 consumers in May and June 2007 who plan to purchase a new vehicle within the next two years.

Mike Marshall, director of automotive emerging technologies at the consultancy, says that the reason for the declines is a perception that hybrids aren't as efficient as consumers had hoped they would be, and that the market for alternative powertrains is expanding to include other technologies.

"In the 2006 study, we found consumers often overestimated the fuel efficiency of hybrid-electric vehicles, and the decrease in consideration of hybrids in 2007 may be a result of their more realistic understanding of the actual fuel economy capabilities," he said in a release. He says hybrids "continue to face competition for market share against an increasing offering of other alternative powertrains and fuels options."

For example, per the study, desire for vehicles powered by clean diesel is at 23% versus 12% last year. On average, shoppers of this powertrain, per JD Power, are willing to pay an extra $1,491 for clean diesel for which they expect an average additional fuel economy of 15 mpg.

The Automotive Environmental Index puts Toyota, which improved six positions in rank since last year, as the No. 1 brand for parameters like fuel economy and emissions reduction for both hybrid and gasoline cars. Second and third are VW and Honda. The consultancy says Honda has four models in the top 30. Ford and Nissan are fourth and fifth.

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