Are we revved up about hybrid cars?

Published 12 July 2007

Hollywood celebrities Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt drive them; so, too, does Federal Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Even Prime Ministerial hopeful Kevin Rudd is getting behind the wheel of a hybrid car. And Southern Cross University Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) student Martin Kunst predicts that hybrid car manufacturing will explode in coming years to meet the demand for greener automotive technology.

To discover how readily Australians have embraced hybrid vehicles and what has motivated their purchases Martin is about to launch a national survey, hopefully with the help of hybrid industry leaders Toyota and Honda. The survey is based on a model he has developed, which predicts a person’s likelihood of buying a hybrid car.

“Australians are increasingly concerned about their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and I’m seeking to understand how hybrid cars (which use petrol and electricity as power sources) have been received here since their introduction in 2002,” said Martin.

“In the United States, celebrities driving around in hybrid cars soon saw them become a status symbol, but in Europe hybrid cars are struggling against diesel vehicles. In Australia the hybrids compete with diesel alternatives on a more even footing.”

A self-confessed car fanatic, who has been interested in the automotive industry since the time he could walk, Martin has himself transformed from a sceptic to a hybrid convert.

“They are truly a pleasure to drive; very quiet and smooth with all the comforts we have come to expect from a motor vehicle,” he said.

“Within the next two years I expect to see every car manufacturer put out a hybrid-powered version of almost every car model on the market. While hybrid cars are currently more expensive than petrol alternatives, they deliver annual fuel savings and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of up to 50 per cent a year compared to the average petrol-engine vehicles on Australian roads. Manufacturers (Toyota and Honda for now) can’t keep up with the demand.

“The number of hybrid cars in Australia is quickly and steadily increasing and if the Federal Government intervenes with tax incentives that will make it even more attractive to buy one. They achieve their greatest savings in fuel and greenhouse gas emissions during urban driving, so are perfect for people like taxi drivers and pizza delivery staff working in cities.”

Martin has begun the task of collecting data from about 1000 people who own or have owned a hybrid car and those that drive a petrol or diesel vehicle but know what a hybrid car is. His research is the first of its kind in Australia and is likely to be watched closely by car manufacturers keen to understand what is driving the demand for hybrid cars and how best to market them.

Photo: Southern Cross University researcher Martin Kunst and the 1.5-litre petrol/electric Toyota Prius, the popular hybrid car being sold at Grand Motors, Southport. The dealership has sold about five a month for the past 12 months and prospective buyers take about eight test drives of the vehicle each week.

Media contact: Zoe Satherley Southern Cross University media officer, 02 6620 3144 or 0439 132 095.