Consumers are buying increasing numbers of environmentally friendly cars. Increasingly, many of these environmentally conscious consumers 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 keep growing 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 light-duty passenger vehicle.
Toyota markets the Prius as an environmentally better alternative to conventional vehicles because it uses less fuel and has lower emissions. This marketing position appears to appeal to consumers who do not wish to further degrade the environment. It has been suggested that these consumers choose to help by driving a car that is more environmentally friendly (Griskevicius, Tybur & Van den Bergh 2010; Bamberg 2003). Popular sentiment has it that intrinsic motives to preserve the environment are the driving force behind the popularity of these vehicles. This is because consumers keep buying petrol-electric hybrid cars like the Prius even though they cost more then twice the amount of a comparable conventional car. But are intrinsic reasons really why consumers choose to buy a car like the Prius? Are there other reasons behind its popularity?
It has been recognized that encouraging the adoption of environmentally friendly products is a key challenge for the behavioural scientists (Kaplan 2000). This appears to be why there has been a great deal of research into the reasons behind this adoption. This article seeks to add to this knowledge by exploring the reasons that drive adoption of environmentally friendlier automobiles, specifically, the petrol-electric hybrids that are gaining popularity. This information may potentially be valuable to increase adoption rates for other environmentally friendly products and ideas.
Intrinsic motivations appear to be the reason why conservation and environmentally minded consumers adopt eco-friendlier products (Chan 1996; Bamberg 2003). For example, intrinsically driven consumers buy hybrid cars to reduce the effects of their driving on the environment. However, there is another stream of literature using other research methods (often masked surveys) that have found that pro-environmental products are often not purchased because of pro-environmental motives (Diekmann & Preisendörfer 1998, Barr 2004, Mainieri et. al. 1997). In fact, in a wide-ranging study that employed disguised surveys on a range of products, Bamberg (2003) reported only a low to moderate association between consumers’ concern about the environment and adoption of consumption behaviour that was considered to be environmentally friendly. If this is the case, is it possible that there are other reasons behind adopting ‘greener’ products?
It is also possible that extrinsic rewards (e.g. popularity, image, status) may be a more salient reason for some consumers to adopt environmentally friendly products (e.g. Jansson, Marrell & Nordlund 2009; Stern 2000, Clark, Kotchen & Moore 2003). This is not to say that these consumers do not posses intrinsic motivations, but that extrinsic reasons appear to play a more powerful role in their decision making process.
Griskevicius, Tybur & Van den Bergh (2010) conducted a series of experiments and found that many of the consumers’ in their sample chose environmental friendly products because of social or professional status concerns. In addition,...