With fuel prices falling, more Americans are trading in their electric and hybrid cars for purely gasoline-powered vehicles, including sport utility vehicles.

For 2015 thus far, only 45 percent of the consumers who traded in an eco-friendly hybrid vehicle bought another hybrid one, according to Edmunds.com's statisticians. In 2012, the statistical figure was more than 60 percent and this is the only time it became lower than 50 percent.

"For better or worse, it looks like many hybrid and EV owners are driven more by financial motives rather than a responsibility to the environment," Jessica Caldwell, director of industry analysis at Edmunds.com, said in a statement.

Back in 2012, when fuel prices were too expensive, Caldwell said many consumers were prepared to pay a premium for the alternative green vehicles.

Three years ago, fuel prices reached $4.67 per gallon. With that price, it would take five years for car owners of a Toyota Camry Hybrid to compensate for the $3,770 vehicle price differential compared with the Toyota's gas-powered model. However, with the present fuel prices at $2.27 per gallon, it will be around 11 years.

Auto sales have dropped for brand-new alternative fuel vehicles. For the first three months of 2015, hybrid car sales were only 2.7 percent of the auto market. That figure is lower compared with 3.3 percent for the same quarter in 2014.

To escape a build-up, General Motors lately reduced the prices of its Spark EV and Cadillac ELR extended-range electric vehicles and, for the time being, the company paused manufacturing of its Chevrolet Volt plug-in vehicle.

Sales of Toyota's Prius gas-electric hybrid are down 7.7 percent; the plug-in version fell 61.4 percent, according to Autodata, which supplies technical information to the automotive aftermarket. Autodata announced recently it is now owned by investment groups Bowmark Capital and Five Arrows.

Sales of the Nissan Leaf, the top-selling EV in the U.S., are down 27.2 percent in the first quarter this year in a new-vehicle market that is up 5.6 percent, based on information from Autodata.

Moreover, automakers have manufactured SUVs and non-hybrid cars to be more fuel efficient. Many current compact vehicles can reach a rate of 35 miles per gallon or more on the main road, based on EPA estimates. Furthermore, the fastest-growing share of the SUV market is compact and even subcompact SUV car models. Those are utility vehicles such as General Motors' Chevrolet Trax and Fiat Chrysler's Jeep Renegade. Both vehicles are capable of achieving 30 miles per gallon on public roads.

Caldwell has concluded that fuel prices definitely have an effect on electric and hybrid car sales. 

Photo: Abdullah AlBargan | Flickr

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