Does It Matter That Much?A new survey, which is summarized by our colleagues at Discovery.com, found that "only 35 percent of hybrid vehicle owners bought another hybrid when purchasing a new vehicle in 2011." This leads some people to wonder: Were hybrids just a fad? Is the technology losing steam? Is fuel-efficiency not important anymore? Etc.
Some of that might be true in some cases, but I think there might be other explanations.
Timing matters. If you buy a hybrid during the gas price spike following hurricane Katrina and then you buy another vehicle during the lower prices of the past few years (though recently it's been going back up), you might make different decisions.
It's also worth nothing that when the first wave of hybrids came to the US, it was still the land of the gas-guzzling SUV and there were almost no good choices of fuel efficient vehicles. Since then, there's been a big improvement in small and mid-sized cars, with many of them getting almost hybrid-like fuel-economy on the highway and decent MPG even in the city. For that we can thank the arrival of some European models (like the Ford Fiesta/Mazda 2), downsized engines (4-cylinders are now much more common), direct-injection, better transmissions (dual-clutch, 6-speed, etc), more aerodynamic bodies, etc. Non-hybrids still don't match hybrids, but hybrids don't quite stand out as much anymore.
But I think the bottom line remains that there's a much bigger pool of non-hybrid drivers that are converting to more fuel-efficient hybrids than there is of hybrid-drivers converting to non-hybrid. Proof of that is that hybrids are breaking sales records and plug-in hybrids and fully electric cars are slowly becoming more mainstream (it'll take a while, like it did for hybrids a decade ago -- but they'll get there).
Of course it would be nice if more hybrid drivers stuck with hybrids for their new purchases, because if they're going to drive a car, hybrids are still the best choice short of going plug-in. But what matters more in the big picture is that transportation is moving away from fossil fuels and becoming electrified, in parallel with the power grid becoming cleaner. It's not moving fast enough for me, but at least it's moving.
In the meantime, it's still best to walk, bike, or take transit. But if you're going to drive, get the most fuel-efficient vehicle that meets your needs.