Profile of Hybrid Car Drivers

There’s been a lot of publicity related to celebrities who drive hybrids. The list reportedly includes Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Sting, Cameron Diaz, Tim Robbins, and Leonardo DeCaprio. With hundreds of thousands of hybrids on the road, the legions of hybrid car drivers certainly include regular folks too. But who are they?

We’ve been tracking studies of hybrid demographics for years, and the trends are clear:

  • Hybrid drivers have higher income, much higher than the average car buyer. In 2004, J.D. Power reported that hybrid owner incomes are $100,000 a year versus $85,000 a year for the average buyer. In a 2007 survey of 118 Prius drivers by Topline Strategy Group, 71 percent of respondents earned more than $100,000 per year. A 2007 study by Scarborough Research— approx. 1,000 hybrid drivers, not just Prius owners, gave answers—showed that 42 percent have an income of greater than $100,000.
  • Hybrid drivers are a few years older than the average car buyer—closer to 50 rather than the average age of 40. J.D. Power’s 2007 review of auto industry marketing showed that only 2 percent of hybrid owners are 24 or younger; while 29 percent are between 45 and 54; and 33 percent are 55 and older. The 2007 Scarborough Research pegged the number of age 50+ hybrid drivers at 23 percent.
  • California strongly outpaces all other states for new hybrid vehicle registrations. 

There is also strong evidence that hybrid drivers have higher levels of education. “Hybrid car drivers have a level of education higher than any group of car drivers that I’ve ever seen,” said Walter McManus, of the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute. McManus’s research also showed that hybrid drivers expect fuel prices to grow a lot faster than other people do. “It doesn’t mean that they’re right. It doesn’t mean that the other people are right,” said McManus. “But they’re much more pessimistic about the future of fuel prices than the average person.”

The 2007 Scarborogh Research survey, which focused on the hybrid owners within a much broader lifestyle study of 110,000 adults, sheds some light on other consumer behavior and political patterns. According to Scarborough, which has a a joint partnership with The Nielsen Company and Arbitron, Inc., hybrid owners are:

  • Twice as likely to claim to go skiing, hiking, or practice yoga than non-hybrid owners.
  • They consume more organic food, yogurt, and decaffeinated coffee than the general population.
  • The group also indicated above-average tech-savvy skills. Within the last month, 78 percent used e-mail. Nearly a third either used their mobile phone for text messaging or taking photographs, while more than a third used a digital-video recorder, satellite TV, or a video game system. Their online activities seem to favor websites that offer news and information, as well as auctions, such as Ebay.
  • Politically, 14 percent called themselves Republican, 38 percent Democrat, and 34 percent identify as independent.

And in the most important market factor—satisfaction with their purchase decision—hybrid owners are unique. From the earliest of early adopters in 2000 to the most recent of mainstream hybrid buyers, the percentage of hybrid owners who express being “very happy” or “somewhat happy” with their hybrids has hovered near 100 percent.


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