Hybrid cars vs. electric cars: How do their drivers compare?

Hybrid cars and electric cars seem like they should attract the same kinds of customers, but they actually differ in many ways, according to a new study. People who buy electric cars tend to be younger and wealthier than people who buy hybrid cars.

By , Guest blogger

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    Honda Motor Co.'s Civic hybrid cars are shown in front of the Japanese automaker's headquarters in Tokyo, Japan. Hybrid cars make up 98 percent of America's alternative-powered vehicles, according to a new study.
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At first glance, you might think that hybrid and electric car shoppers would be cut from the same cloth, demographically speaking. But a new study from Experian Automotive suggests that the two are, in fact, quite different. (MUST SEE: 50 Years Of The Ford Mustang: Video)

To reach that conclusion, Experian analyzed data from electric and hybrid car purchases during the 2013 calendar year. Here are some of the key findings:

  • Roughly 45 percent of all hybrid buyers were 56 or older, but only26 percent of electric car buyers fell into that age range.
  • In fact, 55 percent of those who purchased or leased electric vehicles were between 36 and 55 years old. 
  • Just 12 percent of hybrid car buyers reported household incomes of $175,000 or more. Among electric car buyers, that figure was a significantly higher 21 percent.
  • Hybrids make up 98 percent of America's alternative-powered vehicles, but the segment is growing at a much slower pace than electric cars. In 2013, hybrid sales rose 19 percent above 2012, but electric car sales surged a whopping 245 percent.
  • Asian automakers dominate the hybrid segment: 2013's top-sellers were the Toyota Prius, Toyota Camry, Honda Civic, Toyota Highlander, with the Ford Fusion coming in at #5.
  • The electric car market is more diverse: 2013's big winners were the Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model S, Ford Focus, FIAT 500e, and Mitsubishi i-MiEV. 
  • Hybrid buyers took out average loans of $26,835 and financed them over 62 months, paying $467 per month.
  • Electric car buyers borrowed more -- $28,835, on average -- but financed that sum for just 58 months, paying $549 per month.

Some of those statistics are probably to be expected. For example, you'd expect electric car buyers to have higher household incomes and take out larger loans because electric car technology is still expensive, whereas hybrid price tags are much closer to those of conventional vehicles.  

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But that doesn't fully explain the fairly dramatic differences seen here. In the end, it may come down to luxury: many electric cars feature upscale perks that are attractive to wealthier shoppers. Experian's Melinda Zabritski explains:

"At first glance, one would imagine that consumers purchasing either a hybrid or electric vehicle would be nearly identical; both are environmentally conscious, are of similar ages and have higher income levels. While for the most part those statements ring true, our research shows that there are slight differences between the two. One possible reason for the disparity could be the growing popularity of the higher-end luxury electric models available." (ALSO SEE: NYC Taxi Driver Dodges $28,000 In Tolls By Tailgating)

Our take? Hybrid cars have been roaming the roads for a decade and a half. Though they come at a slight premium, they're essentially mainstream now. In 2014, there's nothing especially edgy or subversive about driving a Prius.

Electric cars, on the other hand, are still very new. They're for the cool kids, the early adopters, the progressive urbanites and suburbanites -- by and large, the younger and the wealthier. Over time, that will change: electric cars will become old news and, accordingly, attract older drivers, while younguns shift their attention to something else, like autonomous vehicles. 

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best auto bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link in the blog description box above.

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