VFACTS: Huge Private Buyer Shift To Hybrids; It?s On... Finally Photo:
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Tim O'Brien | Jan, 09 2013 | 6 Comments

Private sales of hybrids were up 600 percent in December, and up 160 percent for the 2012 calendar year.

And, for the first time, sales of hybrids to private buyers have closed the gap on sales to the Government and commercial sectors.

What that means is that we are witnessing a phenomenon.

After lying near-dormant for the better part of ten years, there is a massive shift underway in consumer perception of hybrids, and in private buyer acceptance.

In fact, the rapid upturn in hybrid sales is the biggest shift the market has witnessed in generations. No corner of the car market, not even when the shift began to SUVs, has witnessed a J-curve such as we are seeing in hybrid sales.

Hybrids now account for a significant share of the market.

How significant? In 2012, 13,879 hybrids were sold in Australia - 6040 to private buyers, and 7839 in non-private sales.

That’s more than the total sales of Skoda (3502), Renault (5011) and Peugeot (5071) combined. It is considerably more than double the sales of Volvo (5375).

And is just shy of the total sales of the once-dominant Ford Falcon (14,036). (Hybrids to outsell the Falcon? Who could ever have countenanced such a thing?)

In fact, if hybrids were treated as a single separate brand, their sales for 2012 would put them comfortably in the top twenty brands, at number 17.

Most remarkably, most of those sales came in Q3 and Q4.

Something has happened.

Certainly, affordable pricing helps the cause. But hybrids generally - as a mainstream purchase - are vastly more palatable to buyers than the quirky tech-head cars of last decade.

Of course, the lion’s share of hybrids sold here carry a Toyota badge.

The Camry Hybrid, built in Altona - affordable, swift, comfortable and classy - made TMR’s 2012 Top Ten Best Buys List and nearly scooped the top prize (beaten only by another Toyota product, the remarkable 86 Coupe).

But there is a gathering wave of new models.

From the Lexus CT 200h, to the Honda Insight and small Toyota Prius C, to the new premium models from BMW and Infiniti, hybrids are now appearing in showrooms in numbers.

But the biggest shift – and perhaps the strongest explanation for the J-curve in sales – would appear to be buyer confidence in the battery technology.

Above: Toyota's new Camry Hybrid.
Above: Toyota's new Camry Hybrid.

On data to date, that confidence would seem well-founded.

Taxi drivers running Priuses are reporting 500,000km+ in battery life.

And the vast US non-profit consumer organisation, Consumer Reports, in 2011 reported (in a study covering 36,000 Priuses sold in the US) “outstanding reliability and low ownership costs”.

In the same study, it tested the battery performance of a 2002 Prius with more than 330,000km on the clock (206,000 miles) and found “little difference in performance” compared to the original car when new.

Here, Toyota Australia quotes the battery life as designed to “last the lifetime of the vehicle”, and provides a warranty of eight years or 160,000km on the battery pack.

And despite many Priuses having racked up very high mileages with taxi fleets, Toyota also reports that “less than 0.2 percent have required battery replacements since the vehicle was first launched in Australia in October 2001”.

The result is that word is out, or so it would seem.

What was considered by many to be a transitional technology is on a rapid march to becoming mainstream.

Is it a flash in the pan? Unlikely; the growing numbers of buyers carrying their environmental convictions into car showrooms will likely ensure that the shift is permanent.

With the Volt and a brace of EVs also looking for their own share of the action, hybrid sales will be a corner of the VFACTS reports to watch in 2013.

Tim O’Brien
TMR Managing Editor

Above: BMW's ActiveHybrid 3.
Above: BMW's ActiveHybrid 3.

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