Hybrid Owners Trading in for Gas-​Guzzling SUVs

BY Courtney Huckabay
Featured image for “Hybrid Owners Trading in for Gas-​Guzzling SUVs”

Electric vehicle and hybrid loyalty falls to an all-​time low, even as overall fuel economy thrives, says Edmunds​.com. A follow-​up to their 2015 Earth Day Study shows alternative-​fuel trade-​ins are more likely to go toward an SUV purchase than another EV or hybrid.

Only 27.5 percent of all hybrid and electric vehicle trade-​ins in 2016 have been applied to the purchase of another hybrid or EV, according to a new analysis from car shopping destination Edmunds​.com. The rate is a precipitous drop from the 38.5 percent of hybrid and EV trade-​ins in 2015, and the findings reinforce a trend first identified last year by Edmunds that owners of alt-​fuel vehicles are returning to traditional gasoline-​powered vehicles in greater numbers than ever before.

But the trend back toward traditional vehicles is not having the negative effect on the environment that one might expect. According to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, the average fuel economy of cars sold in the U.S. in March was 25.3 mpg, up 25 percent from when the institute started tracking this number in October 2007.

"This trend is not an indictment of the quality of these cars — hybrid and electric vehicles tend to be equipped with some of the most sought-​after technology on the market today," says Edmunds​.com Director of Industry Analysis Jessica Caldwell. "This is an economics trend, since today's low cost of gas no longer makes it worth paying the price premium of hybrids and EVs. And there are so many fuel-​efficient vehicles on the market today that environmental concerns weigh less than they might have in years past. When you're buying a vehicle that can get over 30 mpg, you can still say you're doing your part to help the environment."

Auto dealers can try to win back the affection for hybrids and EVs with radio (over-​the-​air, online, mobile or tablet) spots. According to AudienceSCAN research, Hybrid/​Electric Car Owners are 78% more likely than average consumers to take action after hearing these commercials.

'From One Extreme to Another'
A detailed analysis of Edmunds' vehicle trade-​in data tells a story of many hybrid and EV owners jumping from one extreme to another. In fact, Edmunds found that a hybrid or electric trade-​in is more likely to go toward the purchase of a SUV (33.8 percent) than another hybrid or EV. The trend is even more apparent when looking only at EV trade-​ins — 25.7 percent of EV trade-​ins went toward the purchase of a SUV, compared to just 4.8 percent that went toward another EV.

"The overwhelming popularity of SUVs trumps just about any other trend in today's market," says Caldwell. "SUV sales are up 22 percent in the last five years, and almost every other segment has suffered as a result. It's especially true for hybrids and EVs, which generally don't offer the size that today's shoppers crave."

Most of those making the switch from alt-​fuel vehicles to SUVs are opting for the most fuel-​efficient sub-​segment of compact crossover SUVs. Edmunds found that 16.4 percent of hybrid and EV trade-​ins this year went toward compact crossovers. By comparison, only about 1.4 percent went toward a gas-​guzzling purchase of a large SUV or crossover SUV.

SUV dealers can play devil's advocate with newspaper (print, online, mobile or tablet) advertising geared toward getting those hybrid trade-​ins. According to AudienceSCAN data, 38.3% of Hybrid/​Electric Car Owners took action after reading ads in newspapers in the past month.

Edmunds' trade-​in analysis comes at a time when overall electric and hybrid sales have struggled. The alt-​fuel category saw a 10 percent drop from Q1 2015 to Q1 2016, while the overall industry saw a 3.3 percent lift during that time. There is, however, one shining segment within the green car category: plug-​in hybrids. A successful redesign of the Chevrolet Volt and the introduction of some new models like the Audi A3 Sportback e‑tron and the Hyundai Sonata Plug-​in have helped the segment's sales jump more than 40 percent, from 7,652 sales in Q1 2015 to 10,932 sales in Q1 2016.

AudienceSCAN data is available as part of a subscription to AdMall for Agencies, or with the SalesFuel API. Media companies can access AudienceSCAN data through the AudienceSCAN Reports in AdMall.