It has been about 15 years since the first hybrid cars hit the market in the United States, and sales numbers have seen a steady increase over the years as hybrids become more accessible and affordable. In the first three months of 2015, however, hybrid sales are down and trade-ins are up — likely due to plummeting gas prices.
The average price of gas nationally was $2.49 on Thursday, compared with $3.67 a year ago, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report.
CNN Money Reports that in the first quarter of 2015, new hybrid car sales only comprised 2.7% of the market, which is down 3.3% from this time last year.
One of the biggest draws of buying a hybrid vehicle is that they’re so fuel-efficient. Hybrids can be as much as 35% more fuel-efficient than traditional gas-powered internal combustion engine vehicles. Additionally, the general perception is that hybrid owners also want their driving habits to benefit the environment.
Yet people are buying fewer hybrid cars as gas prices go down, and the people who are trading in hybrids are more often choosing a traditional gas-powered SUV over another hybrid. Time reports that the number of people who are trading in hybrids for SUVs is up 10% from just three years ago. This could indicate that many hybrid owners are really only doing it for the money.
Hybrids do generally cost more to buy at the original purchase price, but this is usually more than made up for by the money a driver could potentially save on gas. This, however, is dependent on the actual price of gas.
When gas cost an average of $4.67 a gallon in 2012, it would only take the owner of a Toyota Camry Hybrid five years to make up the $3,770 price gap between the hybrid and non-hybrid models of the same car. At current gas prices, it would take 11 years.
Though there are still advantages of buying a hybrid, it seems like money is more of a concern for drivers than the environment — at least for now.