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Why Do People Buy Hybrid Cars?

Authors:
Deakin Research Online
This is the published version:
Chua, Wan Ying, Lee, Alvin and Sadeque, Saalem 2010, Why do people
buy hybrid cars?, in Proceedings of Social Marketing Forum, University of
Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia, Edith Cowan University,
Churchlands, W.A., pp. 1-13.
Available from Deakin Research Online:
http://hdl.handle.net/10536/DRO/DU:30036231
Reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright owner.
Copyright : 2010, Edith Cowan University
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Why Do People Buy Hybrid Cars?
Wan Ying Chua, Alvin Lee & Saalem Sadeque, The University of Western Australia
Abstract
The underlying dimensions used by hybrid and conventional car buyers to choose the type
of car to buy were measured and analysed. Buyers of conventionally fuelled vehicles
reported that they considered quality and performance to be the most important
determinants of choice. They rated the image they get from driving a particular car and
social influence as being the least important determinants of purchase. Hybrid car buyers
reported opposite results, that social influence and projecting a “green” image were most
important, and quality and appeal was least important. These findings provide social
marketers with a crucial understanding that helps in the selection of an appropriate model
to promote the diffusion of eco-friendly vehicles.
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Why Do People Buy Hybrid Cars?
Consumers are buying ever larger numbers of environmentally friendly cars. Increasingly,
many choose to purchase petrol-electric hybrid vehicles. In this category of “greener-cars”,
Toyota’s Prius model is reported to be the market leader. In 2009-10, it was the best-selling
car in Japan, an important leading market for automobile trends (Mick 2010). Sales of the
Prius continue to grow despite well-publicised quality and safety problems (Mitchell &
Linebaugh 2010). In fact, the demand for petrol-electric hybrids is so strong that Toyota has
introduced a second and larger Camry branded hybrid vehicle into Australia. Other car
manufacturers are following with their own models, indicating that there is likely to be
sustained demand for this type of vehicle.
Toyota markets the Prius as an environmentally better alternative to conventional passenger
cars of a similar category because it consumes less gasoline and produces lower emissions.
This marketing position appears to be salient for consumers who seek to contribute to
environmental causes by driving a less polluting car (Griskevicius, Tybur & Van den Bergh
2010; Bamberg 2003). Taken at face value, the strong consumer response to the marketing
position for petrol-hybrid vehicles suggests that consumers are driven by intrinsic reasons for
towards adopting this type of vehicle. That these consumers are willing to pay premium
prices of up to $16,000 Australian Dollars more for a Prius over a comparable Toyota Corolla
appears to support this conjecture. However, are intrinsic motivations the strongest reasons
for consumers choosing petrol-hybrid electric vehicles? Or are there other reasons for
choosing this vehicle variant? These are the questions asked in this article. To find the
answer, a group of young people who were in the market to purchase cars (had money saved,
were actively searching and comparing cars and were definitely going to buy a car in the next
12 months) were asked about the dimensions that they used to evaluate potential vehicles.
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Previous Research and Conceptual Development
Environmental sensitivity and consumption
The currently popular paradigm for discussing the environment originated in the 1970s, when
the ideas of global warming and finite oil reserves surfaced for the first time (Minton & Rose
1997; Pelletier et al. 1998). While debate continues on the veracity of these propositions, this
thinking has influenced the way people live; prompting many to reduce their energy
consumption and to reduce the amount of by-products that result from their consumption
activities. This train of logic appears to match the popular perception of why consumers
adopt products like the Toyota Prius (Jansson, Marrell & Nordlund 2009). Consumers who
are disposed towards this type of consumption have been described in various ways, including
environmentally-sensitive, -conscious, or as environmentalists. This group has been reported
to be more positively oriented towards conservation and environmental issues than other
groups of consumers (Casey & Scott 2006; Minton & Rose 1997; Stern et al. 1995).
Interestingly, consumers who reported the highest level of sensitivity to environmental issues
reported driving the least and preferred using public or non-motorised transportation (Jansson,
Marell & Nordlund 2009). Because of this, this group is the least likely to adopt hybrid-
vehicles. Those switching to hybrid-electric vehicles would logically be less sensitive to the
environment.
An area that is related to choice of car is the choice of fuel. In reality, when a consumer
chooses to buy a petrol-electric hybrid vehicle like Toyota’s Prius, they are choosing an
alternative-fuelled car. There was a large study of four thousand Swedish drivers who were
surveyed on their level of eco-sensitivity and the type of vehicle fuel they used (Jansson,
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Marell & Norlund 2009). Most of the drivers were deemed to be not sensitive to
environmental issues; this group did not adopt less polluting fuels. Although this study did
not specifically study petrol-hybrid vehicles (instead the majority was LPG or LNG-petrol
dual-fuel vehicles), it was reported that cost and utility were the most important reasons cited
for adopting these less polluting fuels. The study reported a correlation between adoption of
cleaner-fuels and level of eco-sensitivity, this can only provide a description and offers little
insight into why people choose more ecologically sound products. It did not measure if more
eco-sensitive people were more likely to adopt “green-cars”.
The rate of adoption of environmentally friendly products has been slow (Kaplan 2000).
However, there has been high adoption of Toyota’s Prius hybrid-electric car, but not other
cars. This has perplexed many economists who indicate that hybrid-electric cars are not
environmentally friendly compared to similar vehicles, their cost does not justify the carbon-
savings (Lave & MacLean 2001, Sullivan, Salmeen & Simon 2009)) and that economic
conditions in fuel efficiency, fuel prices, and vehicle costs were not optimum for such large
scale adoption (Santini, Patterson & Vyas 2000). Some have suggested that this popularity is
due to the effect of “going green to be seen” (Griskevicius et al. 2010), that the purchase of a
Prius automobile is driven by social pressure and popularity. This finding is supported by the
fact that other cars with petrol-hybrid or gas-hybrid technology is nowhere near as successful
(e.g. Honda Insight). Through observation, the Prius looks different and is easily identifiable
as a hybrid vehicle, while models from other makes are not visually different from cars of the
same class. From the literature, it appears that adoption and switching to hybrid vehicles
appears to be a complex process that is driven by many different variables. While research
into hybrid vehicle adoption has only just started, there has been much research into the
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adoption of eco friendlier products. From the marketing perspective, much of this research
has used intrinsic and extrinsic motivations to explain the adoption process for these products.
Consumer decision making process
For many people, choosing an automobile is a complicated high-involvement process.
Although cars are regularly used products, they are also rarely bought products. The process
of actively choosing a car typically begins with wanting or needing a car (Dholakia 2001;
Frey & Jegen 2001; Villacorta, Koestner & Lekes 2003). Coupled with the ability and desire
to buy, the consumer is said to be “in the market” for a new car. To arrive at their final choice,
the consumer will weigh and evaluate different factors. These are used to reduce their
consideration sets and to establish “purchase parameters”. These evaluations then serve to
find a product that best addresses these parameters. When buying cars, consumers are likely
to consider cost, practicality/performance, aesthetics, the ‘lifestyle/image’ associated with
some makes/models, social influence and the car’s environmental credentials (e.g. fuel
economy/emissions). Consumers appear to choose by trading-off between different factors
and dimensions. Intrinsic or extrinsic reasons underlie this choice and how the dimensions are
traded-off. For example, a person who is buying a car to “show-off” may consider very
different choice-sets compared to a person who buys a car because they truly wish to save the
environment. This trade-off when making choices gives us the opportunity to study the
factors that enter into the choice-sets used to purchase hybrid cars and compare them to those
used to select conventional cars. At this point, it is useful to introduce the possible
dimensions and constructs that consumers may use for choosing between different cars.
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Intrinsic reasons for buying a hybrid-electric car
Some researchers have reported that conservation and environmentally minded consumers are
driven by intrinsic motives when they choose eco-friendlier products (Chan 1996; Bamberg
2003). Taken in the context of choosing an eco-friendlier vehicle, intrinsically motivated
consumers buy hybrid cars because they wish to reduce the effects of their driving on the
environment. These consumers can be classified as being intrinsically motivated because
they have control over their purchase decision, believe that use of a more environmentally
friendly car can help them achieve their desired goal of a better environment, and have an
interest in the topic of environmentalism. This was of identifying an intrinsically motivated
consumer was used successfully in self-efficacy theory (Bandura 1997) and self-attribution
theory (Heider 1958).
Survey research that has overtly polled consumers about their views on environmentalism and
adoption of eco-friendlier products has consistently reported a positive association between
adoption of these products and ecological sensitivity; those who are more ecologically
sensitive reported a higher tendency to adopt eco-friendlier products (Gatersleben, Steg &
Vlek 2002; Minton & Rose 1997; Anable 2005; Bamberg 2003; Hansla et al. 2008; Maloney
& Ward 1973; Stisser 1994). This hypothesis was also tested in its inverse, finding that
consumers who were inclined towards eco-friendlier products were also the most sensitive to
the environment (Jansson, Marell & Nordlund 2009). This positive link between adopting
eco-friendlier products and consumers’ environmental views have been interpreted by many
(e.g. Anable 2005, Bamberg 2003) as being indicative that intrinsic motives underlie this
product adoption process. An intrinsic measure of environmental sensitivity (Jansson, Marell
& Nordlund 2009) asks the respondent about their personal view of the importance of the
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environment. The motivation for adopting an eco-friendlier product is normally asked by
having the respondent indicate the degree to which the product (e.g. car they drive) affects the
environment and the personal importance of this effect. Additionally, consumers with
intrinsic reasons for adopting a more environmentally friendly car are likely to worry about
how the car they drive affects the environment (Follows & Jobber 2000). This leads to the
first hypothesis:
H1: Intrinsic environmental motivations (a) will be an important evaluative dimension
for petrol-electric hybrid car buyers, and (b) not be important for conventional car
buyers.
When taken at face value, this positive link appears to be logical. However, a careful review
of the methods of this research indicates that the procedures that have been adopted may be
prone to auspicious bias, social-desirability bias and common-methods bias. Articles
reporting a positive link between eco-sensitivity and use of eco-friendly products typically use
overt questions to measure these constructs. This is what is normally referred to as an
“unmasked survey” (Burns & Bush 2010). Using unmasked questions on this topic is likely
to introduce social desirability bias because they wish to be seen as being having favourable
views towards the environment. Following this, because the researchers collected information
about the consumers’ environmental outlook and adoption of eco-friendlier products in the
same questionnaire, common-methods bias is likely to be present (Doty & Glick 1998). A
well-known artefact of common-methods bias is respondents trying to keep their responses
consistent; where they use responses to earlier questions in the survey as a basis or “frame”
for their answers to later questions. In this case, if a respondent has indicated, perhaps
motivated by social desirability effects, that they had a tendency to be environmentally-
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sensitive, they are likely to later report adopting eco-friendlier products. Together, these
biases will tend to skew the findings towards a positive association between intrinsic motives
for consuming environmentally friendly products. This type of effect is well-documented for
consumption behaviour that carries some social desirability risk (e.g. tax returns, parents
reporting the time their children go to sleep, TV watching, amount of fast food eaten,
smoking). In these cases, social-desirability and common-methods biases may be
compounded by acquiescence bias. This is due to the current emphasis on environmental
sensitivity, a social-view that may be seen by many as being a “truism” or as being
“politically-correct”. These effects may lead to many respondents to report that they are
environmentally sensitive. In order to reduce the probability of social desirability and
auspices biases, this research uses a masked survey and analyses the latent dimensions used
by consumers when evaluating a car for purchase.
Extrinsic reasons for adopting eco-friendly products
Studies that have used a different method have found that being environmentally-sensitive
does not necessarily mean that a consumer will purchase eco-friendlier products (Diekmann
& Preisendörfer 1998; Barr 2004; Mainieri et. al. 1997). These studies have reported only a
low to moderate relationship between the constructs of environmentalism and adopting eco-
friendly products (Bamberg 2003). According to the results of this second group of studies,
extrinsic rewards (e.g. popularity, image, status) appear to be strong drivers for some
consumers to adopt eco-friendly products (e.g. Jansson, Marrell & Nordlund 2009; Stern 2000,
Clark, Kotchen & Moore 2003).
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In a series of experiments, where the participants were primed with a status related story,
Griskevicius, Tybur and Van den Bergh (2010) found that the decision to choose an
environmental friendly product depended on whether the choice enhanced the respondent’s
status. Additionally, they found that participants were more likely to choose an
environmental friendly product when the outcome of the purchase decision was publicly
salient compared to when the purchase was made privately. Discrimination between private-
public consumption increased when the eco-friendlier product cost more than the
conventional product. This appears to suggest that for this group of consumers, an eco-
friendly product that was publicly visible and which cost more was more attractive. The
authors indicated that their results clearly suggested that this group was likely to choose an
environmental friendly product if its conspicuous use would help to portray them as prosocial
and unselfish. This would give them a desirable “status” in their social group. While
Griskevicius et al.’s article reported a study of how status-achievement predicted purchase of
green-products, it did not address the specific elements of status (image, social pressure and
increased cost).
Image
The image a driver derives from using a vehicle is a complex thing to measure. For example,
image has been found to correlate with the perceived quality of the vehicle, its build, whether
the vehicle is perceived as boring or exciting, and the appeal of the vehicle to the driver and to
others (Peracchio & Myers-Levy 1994).
Petrol-electric-hybrid passanger vehicles such as Toyota’s Prius and Camry are seen by many
consumers as being environmentally friendly. Consumer behaviour literature has long and
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rich history in research into the congruence between self-image and use of products/brands
(e.g. Dolich 1969). This type of car is also used conspiciously by some (e.g. actors and
political figures) to portray their environmental credentials. Similar to some firms with a
“green” image (Rennings 2000), these public figures tend to try to cultivate a desirable public
image that portrays them as being eco-sensitive. In this case, adoption of the hybrid vehicle is
seen as a means to an end, a tool that helps to project a socially desirable and politically
correct image (Kahle 1995). In this case, the impetus for buying a hybrid car because will
necessarily be extrinsic. This observation is helped by the fact that while there are many
models of petrol-hybrid vehicles in the market, the one that looks the most distinctive (i.e.
most different from its conventianally fuelled counterpart) is the Prius. The Prius is the most
best-selling petrol-hybrid model and also the most well-known. Other comparable models
like the Honda Hybrid, which looks exactly like a Civic except for the work “hybrid” on the
badge, are virtually unknown to most consumers. This leads to the hypothesis:
H2: Image will be a more important evaluative dimension for petrol-electric hybrid car
buyers compared to conventional car buyers
Cost
The cost of a car includes its purchase price and running costs. In Australia, a Prius costs
$16,000 more than a Corolla, which is a comparable car (Toyota Australia 2010). While a car
costs more, the concept of perceived value for money is an important consideration. A buyer
may feel that the Prius gives good value for money even if it is more costly because of the
intangible benefits that can be derived from owning this vehicle (e.g. eco-friendliness of
vehicle, image associated with the car etc.).
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Running costs for hybrids are also generally higher. Industry research on purchase of
conventionally fuelled vehicles (petrol and diesel) has found that in addition to the price of
purchase, the costs of running a car is a prime consideration for the type of car to buy (e.g.
Punj & Staelin 1983). However, in view of the positive relationship found between cost of
vehicle and the social status attained by the vehicle user (Griskevicius et al. 2010), it is likely
that the cost of running and buying a hybrid-electric vehicle will not enter into the evaluation
sets of extrinsically driven hybrid-electric car buyers. In this case, petrol-electric hybrid cars
would appear to fit the model for luxury or high-end automobiles where the cost of a car is
positively associated with its perceived image (Heffner, Kurani & Turrentine 2005, 2007), the
more expensive it is, the more exclusive the vehicle. Because of this, buyers of such vehicles
tend to place more emphasis on image and less on cost. Therefore the next two hypotheses is:
H3: (a) Buying costs, and (b) Running costs will be a less important evaluative
dimension for petrol-electric hybrid car buyers compared to conventional car buyers
Vehicle performance and function
Product performance/function includes evaluations of how the product is likely to perform
(Lavidge & Steiner 1961). Utility is a common measure product performance. The consumer
can evaluate performance first hand by test-driving the car or may obtain it second-hand
through the media or through word-of-mouth. At the very basic level, a product should
provide adequate levels of function relative to its defined role. Product function is likely to be
an important evaluative factor for persons buying a car that is aimed more at utility rather than
image.
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The grade of a product is closely related to product performance. It is generally measured
through the product’s perceived quality and attributes (Lavidge & Steiner 1961; O'Brien
1971). For many conventional cars, the determination of product-grade is likely to ultimately
manifest as whether the car is a worthwhile purchase, or whether the car has the reputation of
being a “lemon”. Therefore, product grade is a composite dimension between the quality and
build of the car and whether the vehicle is a worthwhile purchase (Peracchio & Myers-Levy
1994). To a lesser extent, this construct may also take into account whether the vehicle is of
“value for money”. This does not mean that the vehicle is “cheap”, but represents good value
for the amount that the buyer expects to pay.
Because this article proposes that the purchase of hybrid-electric vehicles is dependent
mainly on extrinsic motives, hybrid vehicles may value image over function. Instead, buyers
of hybrids may evaluate quality in a different manner; hybrids are better quality because they
produce fewer emissions. This leads to the following hypotheses:
H4: (a) Product quality, (b) functionality and (c) grade will be a less important
evaluative dimensions for petrol-electric hybrid car buyers compared to conventional
car buyers.
Social influence
Social influence can affect an individual’s choices (Ajzen 1991). People use specific products
in order to gain admittance, fit in with, and to attain social standing within desired reference
groups (Steg 2005; Heffner, Kurani & Turrentine 2007; Pelletier et al. 1998; Griskevicius,
Tybur & Van den Bergh 2010). This factor has been found to be significantly stronger for
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some groups of consumers (Steg 2005). Typically these consumers are described as
conformists who will follow the directions and wishes of their referent groups. For example,
individuals prone to social influence will feel the need to purchase a hybrid car because others
have them. In a professional situation, social influence may influence the use of a hybrid
because the consumer feels that it is important to have the “correct” type of car or feels that
use of a hybrid vehicle is expected of them in their social role. In this case, they are likely to
find it important to be seen driving a hybrid vehicle.
Social influence also acts to minimise uncertainty. Some consumers are likely to look
towards their family and peers or significant others when they are not sure which car to buy
(Kahle 1995). This is when word-of-mouth functions to recommend a product for purchase
(Lam, Lee & Mizerski 2009). In this case, the consumer who is unsure of their choice would
follow what their friends and family are doing and buy the same brand or type of car (Jacoby
& Kyner 1973). By driving the same type/brand of car, the consumer achieves congruence
with their referent groups, making them feel more equal to the other group members
(Kressmann, Sirgy, Herrmann, Huber, Huber & Lee 2006). In following the lead of others,
the consumer may feel that they will look good and have a positive image in the eyes of their
significant others (Kahle 1995).
While social influence is expected to be in the consideration sets of both conventional and
hybrid car buyers, social influence is expected to exert a stronger effect in the evaluation
process for hybrid buyers. This is due to the image effects associated with buying and using
petrol-electric hybrids. This leads to the final hypothesis:
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H5: Social influence will be a more important evaluative dimension for petrol-electric
hybrid car buyers compared to conventional car buyers.
We recognise that intrinsic-extrinsic motives appear to function on a continuum. Both the
buyers of hybrid cars and conventional cars may experience both types of motivation. Our
main aim is to contrast the motivations experienced by buyers of conventional and petrol-
hybrid cars and how these motivations emerge as the salient dimensions that they use in their
evaluations of their potential purchase.
Methods
Survey development
The scales and items that were used to measure the constructs for evaluating vehicle purchase
were adapted from the literature. These constructs were car buyers’ attitudes on
environmentalism (Jansson, Marell & Nordlund 2009), in- and extrinsic motivation to
consume green products and social influence (Kahle 1995), vehicle performance and
functionality (Peracchio & Myers-Levy 1994), buyers’ evaluative criteria for vehicle purchase
(MacKenzie, Lutz & Belch 1986). Questions about value for money of buying a car and
about running and purchase costs based on from material from Lave and MacLean (2001).
Questions to assess intentions of buying a hybrid vehicle were adapted from MacKenzie, Lutz
and Belch (1986). These measures were compiled into a composite model to evaluate the
way car buyers evaluated these dimensions. Comparisons were made between those who
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indicated intentions to buy a conventional car and those intending to buy a petrol-electric
hybrid vehicle. The measures from literature were reported to be reliable with Cronbach’s
Alpha in excess of .7. Our data had similarly high internal consistency, with the measures
reported in this article having an alpha value of .76.
Three experts, who were government vehicle-fleet managers and who also drove a Prius as
their work vehicle, reviewed, evaluated and pre-tested our pencil and paper survey. They
commented on the layout, evaluative dimensions for vehicle purchase and the sequencing of
the questions. Based on their comments, we edited the survey to increase accuracy and clarity.
The final version contained 33 questions.
Survey administration
We distributed 165 self-report surveys using the snowball sampling technique in the
researchers’ workplaces and obtained 157 usable replies. Respondents who were identified as
“being in the market” to buy a car were asked to refer the researchers to other potential
respondents who intended to purchase cars in the near future. This resulted in a sample where
53.5% of respondents were 22 to 30 years old (range 16-50+ years old) and 58.9% were
female. The number of successful interviews appears high because we pre-qualified
respondents by asking them three filter questions. The referred respondent was first asked if
they were actively looking and evaluating a vehicle. If they said yes, we measured their
intention by asking if they had saved-up to buy the vehicle. If the respondent said yes, to this
second question, we then asked them when they intended to buy the car. Only those intending
to buy in the next year were interviewed. While we did not keep records of how many people
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did not pre-qualify, the researchers estimated that every other person they were referred to did
not qualify for the survey.
These respondents were asked to indicate their preferred choice of car, 8.6% of respondents
(n=12 of 138 intending to buy a car) indicated that they were strongly considering buying a
hybrid car. In view of the range of automobiles available in the market, this appears to be a
high percentage. Our respondent group at 8.6% is higher than the 2.2% market share enjoyed
by all types of hybrid vehicles, and the 5.3% intending to purchase hybrids in the US – the
largest market for hybrids (Duffy 2010). This group of intending hybrid car buyers reported
significant positive associations with environmental sensitivity (Correlation Coefficient=.83;
p<.05).
Analyses
This article uses an established way of testing the order and importance of the evaluative
dimensions for vehicle purchase. Using factor analysis, the way buyers of conventionally
fuelled cars evaluated cars for purchase was compared to those used by petrol-electric hybrid
vehicle buyers. This field-survey and latent analysis method has not been used in this area.
Previous studies had used economic elasticity manipulations (Lave & MacLean 2001)
stimulations (e.g. Santini et al. 2000), and qualitative interviews (Griskevicius et al. 2010).
The data was split into groups, those respondents who stated a preference for petrol-electric
hybrid and those who preferred conventionally-fuelled vehicles (c.f. Clark, Kotchen & Moore
2003). Two models using exploratory factor analysis with Varimax rotation were specified.
When specifying factorial models using the enter method, factors with the strongest variance
are entered into the model first, followed by weaker factors. This avails the opportunity to
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observe the importance of the factors that are used for evaluating automobile purchase
between the two groups of buyers (Hair et al. 1998). Additionally the items that load to make
up each factor will give an indication of how each factor is constructed in the respondents’
minds.
Results and Discussion
Two models were specified using exploratory factor analysis with Varimax rotation. These
compared Conventional car buyers (model 1) and Hybrid car buyers (model 2) on the
elements that entered into their consideration when evaluating their automobile purchase.
Factor analysis is appropriate because it can reveal the way buyers organise their evaluative
items during the decision making process. These are portrayed as constructs that are called
factors. The analysis can also sort these factors according to their relative strength, implicitly
ranking the relative importance of each set of factors (Hair et al. 1998). In Table 1, the factors
used to evaluate conventional cars (Model 1) explained 90.8% of the reasons (variance) for
choice. The items in Model 2, where respondents only evaluated hybrid cars, explained 77.9%
of the variance. A significant result for Bartlett’s test for sphericity (model 1=.02, model
2=.004) indicated that the variables were uncorrelated in the population matrix (Hair et al.
1998). This meant that the strength of the correlations between the variables is strong and that
factor analysis is can be used to analyse this data.
As expected, many of the same items loaded on both models, but in different dimensions and
with different degrees of importance. In model 1, buyers of conventional cars evaluated five
factors while hybrid car buyers used three dimensions for evaluation (model 2). Between the
two models, the importance of the dimensions was reversed. Buyers of conventional cars
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placed more importance on performance and less on social-image factors. Buyers of hybrid
cars valued social-image factors more than the quality and appeal of the car.
Table 1
Factorial models comparing consideration sets of buyers for conventional versus petrol-electric hybrid cars
Model 1 factors Model 2 factors
Conventional car buyers Hybrid car buyers
Items
1.Prdt. grade
2.
Performance
3. Improves
Image
4. Social
standing
5. Social
influence
1. Social
influence
2. Green
image
3. Quality &
appeal
Product quality
.90
.93
Worthwhile product to buy .78 .45
Hybrid costs more than normal cars -.89
Value for money .46 .86
Mediocre/exceptional product .73 .96
Poorly/well built .90
Expected to drive hybrid in professional role .84
Appealing/unappealing product .78
Hybrids are more expensive to run -.46 -.76
I buy brands that make me look good in front of friends & family .88 .81
I feel I am equal to friends & family when I buy the same brands .82
When uncertain, I buy the same vehicles my family & friends buy .95 .85
I tend to buy the same brands as friends & family .88 .60 .46
Gives me good social image .85
Elegance and attractiveness is as important as functionality .84
Hybrids are more expensive to buy -.44 .84
Important for me to be seen driving an environmentally friendly car .81
I need to buy a hybrid because others have them -.45 .82
Note: only loadings above .4 are shown. 5 point Likert & Semantic Differential scales used. Unshaded cells did not load in the
models.
Hybrid buyers did not consider purchase and running costs in their decision making process,
but costs were among the most important items evaluated by buyers of conventional cars. To
rule out socio-demographic reasons that may lead hybrid buyers to be insensitive to costs, we
performed a co-variance check by comparing the income and demographics of respondents
from both models 1 and 2. We found no significant differences.
Compared to the buyers in model 1, hybrid car buyers in model 2 used fewer items to evaluate
vehicle quality and functionality. This partially explains why they ascribed less importance to
quality and function. Instead, hybrid buyers reported that peer and family opinions, and
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whether driving a hybrid gave them a “green image” as being most important. This suggests
that hybrid buyers use the car to gain acceptance-into and to fit-in-with these reference groups.
This observation appears to be further supported by the questions, “I need to buy a hybrid
because others have them” and “(It is) Important for me to be seen driving an environmentally
friendly car”, loading together as a significant factor called “Green Image” for hybrid buyers.
These items failed to load for buyers of conventional vehicles (model 1). This suggests the
impetus for buying a hybrid vehicle, at least for the respondents in model 2 of this study, is
extrinsically motivated by their need for acceptance by their referent groups.
If hybrid car buyers are heavily influenced by referent groups of family and peers, and they
obtain extrinsic social rewards from driving a hybrid, then they may be buying a hybrid “for
show”. This theory is supported by the conspicuous absence of questions seeking to measure
intrinsic reasons for buying a hybrid car loading in the models. While intrinsic reasons were
not expected to be salient for buyers of conventional cars, many of the articles reviewed here
reported that it was intrinsic motivations that drove the adoption of hybrid vehicles and other
eco-friendly products. It was reasoned that more people are becoming environmentally aware
and, as a result, are buying hybrid cars. Our findings do not support this view. We find that
intrinsic motivations do not enter into the evaluation sets of hybrid car buyers. The results
suggest that hybrid buyers may portray themselves as being more environmentally sensitive
than they really are and chose to drive a hybrid to advertise this sensitivity. As Barr (2004)
noted, “…it might be stated that some of us are environmentalists, but the rest of us know how
to sound like environmentalists” (p. 246).It is also possible that by choosing an eco-friendlier
vehicle, hybrid buyers have already accounted for their eco-sensitivity. However, our results
fail to support this as the questions measuring intrinsic motivations did not enter into their
consideration sets.
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Limitations and Conclusion
This article has reported the results of an investigation into the latent dimensions used to
evaluate car purchase by consumers who were considering buying a hybrid-electric car. These
dimensions were compared to a group of respondents who were thinking of buying a
conventionally fuelled vehicle. These two groups of car buyers were actively evaluating
automobiles for purchase in the next twelve months. We found that people choosing hybrid
vehicles evaluated the purchase differently from buyers choosing conventional vehicles. At
least in this sample, hybrid buyers were mainly concerned with whether the car would
improve their social standing and personal image. This finding is consistent with that reported
by Griskevicius, Tybur & Van den Bergh (2010). Buyers of conventional cars were more
concerned with the car’s functionality, cost and quality and were less concerned wither the car
made them socially popular.
Although the sample consisted of many university graduates, the sampling was done in the
workplace. It just happened that many of the researchers’ colleagues were graduates. This
population was young (22-30) and were the prime market for automobile manufacturers.
It appears that hybrid cars, at least for our sample, appear to be purchased for social and
reasons and not by people who genuinely care for the environment. This finding is reasonable
as other research (e.g. Heffner, Kurani & Turrentine 2007) have reported that the most
environmentally sensitive consumers preferred to abstain from driving. Our sample of hybrid
car buyers is highly influenced by their reference groups. These groups seem to dictate the
consumption behaviour of Prius buyers.
21
This strong influence of groups can be utilized by social marketers to shift social behaviour
increase adoption of more environmentally friendly cars. In this case, a suitable model
appears to be the diffusion of innovations model. Although rarely used by social marketers
(Lefebvre 2000), this model can be used to promote the orderly adoption of hybrid vehicles.
The way hybrid automobiles are bought, driven by social influence, provides positive answers
to four areas necessary for successful diffusion of an innovation (Oldenburg, Hardcastle &
Kok 1997). These are, does it fit into the audiences’ lifestyle and self-image? Is the new
behaviour better than current behaviour? Can it be trialled before commitment? Can it be
easily and clearly understood? Finally, can the behaviour be adopted with minimal risk?
This externally motivated group (perhaps early adopters) can be influenced to achieve a
critical mass of adoption for low-emissions vehicles. Social marketers can do this by using
reference group appeals. In this case, it is important to achieve a salient positioning for the
concept of low-emissions vehicles so that it appeals to more than one agency, and to later
adopter groups that may be less prone to social influence (see results for buyers of
conventional cars). It is expected that in order to achieve widespread adoption, the agencies
that must be influenced include the customer, policy makers (e.g. government and regulators)
and the community at large. It is only with this acceptance that the utilisation of low
emissions vehicles will reach a critical point that it provides a positive effect on the
environment.
However,thesecondproposalwehaveisthatalthoughindividualsindicatethattheyhave“green”
valuesandattempttodemonstratetheir“greenism”byparticipatinginproenvironmental
purchasingbehaviours(i.e.purchasingtheToyotaPrius),infact,theyarenotreally“green”or
environmentallyfriendlyandthatitisallforshow(Heffner,Kurani&Turrentine2005;Heffner,
Kurani&Turrentine2007).Theyareextrinsicallymotivatedbytheacknowledgementofpeersthat
theyshowalevelofconcernfortheenvironmentandaredoingtheirbittosavetheenvironment.
22
Thelinkbetweenenvironmentallyfriendlybeliefsandconsumptionappearstobetenuous
(Maloney&Ward1973;Gatersleben,Steg&Vlek2002).Ithasnotbeensubstantiated.Noempirical
evidence,onlyanecdotalaccounts.
23
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