Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
By MARK PENN with E. KINNEY ZALESNE
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published May 1, 2009

A closer look into the accelerating trend of buying hybrid vehicles

Unless you are willing to buy a windmill, the biggest green purchase out there is buying a hybrid car. Recently, the 1 millionth hybrid in the U.S. was sold, out of 135 million cars on the roads today.

That makes hybrid-buying a microtrend, and it is an accelerating one. While constituting less than 1% of all cars, hybrids represented approximately 2.5% of all new cars sold in March 2009 (21,000 of 858,000 cars sold). And it is up from 15,000 a month in March 2006 when overall car sales were a lot higher.

Hybrid buyers are far from typical car consumers. They also are far removed from the image of the budget-conscious motorist buying a hybrid to save some hard-earned scratch. I know one Prius owner who has two cars — a hybrid and a stretch limo — and carefully chooses which car to use, for an evening out or a trip to the mall.

Early hybrid buyers have been buying the cars less for their fuel efficiency than to make a statement about who they are. Just as owning a Mercedes used to scream luxury and refinement, so hybrids have been about forgoing luxury and making sacrifices to help save the planet. Sometimes that statement has been a sincere effort by environmentally concerned citizens who are spending more than they have to help us cut down on carbon emissions. Other times people buy hybrids just for the panache of it.

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