hybrid automobile will be the focus of research into the motives consumers have for purchasing hybrids. Issues that will be reviewed include psychological and social factors, attitudes, personalities, family, socioeconomic factors and other issues.
History of Hybrid and Electric Autos in the U.S.
The first known electric vehicle was built by Robert Anderson in Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1839. The first known hybrid car was designed in 1898 by Ferdinand Porsche; called the Lohner-Porsche Elektromobil, it could travel 38 miles in electricity alone (Berman, 2007).
Meanwhile in the United States, when the government and consumer advocacy groups began to realize that lead emissions from the exhaust of automobiles contributed a deadly dose of pollution into the air, steps were taken to reduce lead emissions. In 1973, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued new standards that called for "…a gradual reduction of lead emissions from gasoline," according to Curtis and Judy Anderson in their book Electric and Hybrid Cars: A History. Part of the problem in 1973 was the international oil "shortage" that was apparently set in motion by the oil-producing nations; many people believed the oil shortage was a "hoax" perpetrated on consumers by the oil companies -- "in collusion with oil companies" -- in order to gouge customers (Anderson, et al., 2010, p. 76).
Whether the fuel shortages were manipulated or not, the problem generated "…growing interest in electric and hybrid vehicles," Anderson explained (77). Interest was further stimulated because America's cities were shrouded in smog and the combustion engine was correctly sited as a direct cause. As a result of these two dynamics, Congress (over President Ford's veto) passed the Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Act of 1976, authorizing $160 million for demonstration projects, for research on batteries, design, and motors for hybrids and electric cars. There have been many millions of dollars of taxpayer money on demonstration projects related to low-polluting vehicles which save consumers money on ever-rising gasoline prices. But automakers took the idea of hybrids for the mass consumer audience and ran with it; to wit, Toyota produced the hybrid Prius in 1997 to the Japanese market and to the U.S. market in 2000. Honda released the Insight in 1999 (and it won awards for its mileage ratings of 61 MPG city and 70 MPG on the open highway (Berman, 2011).
What are the motives for buying a hybrid? Alan Dunn writes in U.S. News that there are several good reasons that should motivate consumers to buy a hybrid. Those motivating factors are: a) lower fuel costs; the Prius gets nearly 50 MPG and other hybrids like the Mercury Milan Hybrid, Lexus CT 200h, the Honda Civic Hybrid and the For Fusion Hybrid all get over 40 MPG; average annual fuel costs for these cars is around $1,400); b) cheaper car insurance (the Travelers company and others offer "good-driver" discounts up to 10% for hybrid car owners); c) "It is hip to be green," Dunn writes, adding that "…consumers finally have realized that driving a hybrid car is actually both cool and financially responsible"; auto manufacturers are aware of this and pitch their sales and marketing materials accordingly; c) there are tax incentives for hybrid car buyers; the federal government and individual states offer tax breaks for purchasers of hybrid cars; and d) HOV (high-occupancy vehicle lanes, also known as "carpool lanes) passes are available in many states so that owners of hybrids can use these lanes even if only the driver is the only person in the automobile (Dunn, 2011).
Psychological Survey of Hybrid Buyers: Professor of Psychology Dame Glynis Breakwell conducted a psychological survey of hybrid auto owners. The results showed that buying a hybrid is linked to six beliefs: a) cars produce too much CO2; b) hybrids generate less CO2; c) hybrids are well built; d) hybrids are a "status symbol"; e) hybrids are economical; and f) hybrids offer tax breaks (Breakwell, et al., 2012). Two of those 6 beliefs are also "values": cars produce too much CO2 and also a reduction of greenhouse gases will help the environment (Breakwell).
Personality and self-image in car-buying: Geoffrey Paul Lantos explains the psychology of car buyers -- and the way companies tap into consumer beliefs and personalities -- in his book Consumer Behavior in Action: Real-Life Applications for Marketing Managers. There are brands that are created specifically to "…reflect either the purchaser's actual or desired personality" (Lantos, 2010, p. 326). Self-expression starts early in live and people make purchases not just because certain items are necessary, but because certain items reflect their personalities and desires to be seen in a certain way.
Cars, Lantos writes, are possibly the "…most-used expressions of users' personalities and self-image"; consumers think that "I am what I drive," Lantos asserts. Hence, Ford Motor Company offers brands for personalities: the Taurus is for families; the Mustang is for the sporty individual; the Ranger is "youthful" and the F-Series "is tough" (Lantos, 326). Hence, purchasing a hybrid is "…not just a way to economize on gas, it is also a statement about how green consumers are," Lantos continues (326).
What is a person's self-image? Lantos reports that self-image is a person's "conscious feelings and attitudes about himself or herself as a person" (327). There is the "actual self-image" (who consumers really believe they are); there is the "ideal" or "desired" self-image (how they would like to be); the "social self-image" is how consumers "believe others see them"; the "ideal social self-image" is how consumers would like others to view them (and by purchasing a hybrid they want people to see they are green); and the "expected self-image" is how consumers fully expect to be viewed as they transition "…from their actual self-image to their ideal self-image" (Lantos, 327).
Social / Business / Ecological Reasons for Hybrid Purchases
Why do people by the Toyota Prius? Jonathan Klein is a general partner with The Topline Strategy Group (TSG). The TSG studied Prius owners who bought their cars between 2003 and 2007, and while "conventional wisdom" would lead an objective person to figure that those consumer bought a Prius because they were "…willing to pay a premium to help the environment or to be among the first to own a hybrid," only 27% of the Prius buyers surveyed qualified for that category of consumerism (Klein, Clean Energy Council, 2009).
So while only 27% of Prius buyers bought their cars for the above-mentioned reason, the other 73% "had a clear financial motivation to buy one," Klein continues. Of consumers that were surveyed by the Topline Strategy Group and whose annual income averages between $100,000 and $150,000 per year: a) 82% said the only car they gave serious consideration to was a hybrid; b) 50% said the only car they seriously thought about buying was a Prius; c) 71% said the fact that Prius only comes as a hybrid was either "important" or "very important"; and d) 12% "actively participate in environmental activities or events" (Klein, p. 3). Another survey by Klein shows that 66% of Prius owners "wanted an environmentally friendly car"; 16% wanted savings at the gas pumps; 11% liked the idea of driving in the carpool lane; only 3% liked the technology; 2% wanted to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil; and 3% had "miscellaneous" reasons for the purchase (Klein, p. 5).
In the political spectrum, there are "buzzwords" (Fuhs, 2009) that tell the story for consumers that may consider hybrids. "Hubbert's curve" is the prediction as to when oil resources will run out, and other "politically correct" buzzwords include: "Oil is finite and someday will run out"; "When oil production peaks, the economic consequences" will be worse than the Great Depression; "Global oil production is already in a state of decline -- we just do not recognize it"; and "New technology" will…