(CBS) - Hybrid cars have gained praise, derision and driven technological advancement since their introduction. Sales have surged on the back of higher gas prices, inspiring many automakers to focus on turning out gas-electric vehicles.
But the one thing hybrid cars may not be able to inspire is loyalty. A recent study shows that nearly two-thirds of hybrid owners decide not to purchase another hybrid vehicle when it's time to trade in.
R.L. Polk, an automotive marketing research company, released a study this week showing that only 35-percent of hybrid owners purchased another gas-electric vehicle when trading in during 2011. Repurchase rates vary across hybrid models, with the highest percentage of hybrid loyalty going to the Toyota Prius. Removing that car from the model shows a repurchase rate under 25-percent.
"Having a hybrid in the product lineup can certainly give a brand a competitive ege when it comes to attracting new customers," says Brad Smith, director of Polk's Loyalty Management Practice. "The repurchase rates of hybrid vehicles are an indication that consumers are continuing to seek alternative solutions to high fuel prices."
Fuel prices and hybrid loyalty seem to go hand in hand. When gas prices were stable during the third quarter of 2011, only 31-percent of hybrid owners decided to repurchase. That number jumped to 40-percent in the fourth quarter when gas prices spiked.
Hybrid vehicles represent 2.4-percent of the new car market in the U.S., according to Polk, down from a high of 2.9-percent in 2008.
The study also revealed that hybrid loyalty was not significantly higher in "eco-friendly" markets like Los Angeles and Seattle than the rest of the country. The Polk study shows that the highest hybrid loyalty rates are in Florida, which had three of the top-five repurchase rates.