SOUTHFIELD, Mich. --- Nationwide registrations for new hybrid vehicles rose to 350,289 registrations in 2007 -- a 38 percent increase from 2006, according to R. L. Polk & Co.

The Toyota Prius continued to lead the segment with 179,178 total new registrations -- 51.2 percent of hybrid market share.

"Auto buyers are benefiting from new hybrid launches, and fleecing of old models that didn't work. There is a lot of excitement being generated within the industry as manufacturers adjust plans to adapt to consumer demand," said Lonnie Miller, director of industry analysis at Polk. "While the Toyota Prius has a stronghold on the midsize car hybrid segment, the Toyota Highlander and Ford Escape share leadership positions in the SUV hybrid segment. As hybrid buyers migrate within a brand, manufacturers have to be prepared to meet their expectations for offerings if they want consumers to remain loyal."

While most of the market continues to see hybrid models enabled by various forms of gas-electric powertrains, the entire hybrid segment will evolve as other technologies are developed and tested. With the end-goal of providing more fuel-efficient vehicles, future offerings will expand beyond the current generation of hybrid models.

"Hybrids are a great foray into the world of fuel-efficiency for many buyers," said Miller. "Unfortunately, we still have an uphill battle for diesel and ethanol adoption given the need for more consumer education and improvements with filling station infrastructure. It will be interesting to see how more advanced technologies progress this whole category, but they can't come soon enough."

Polk's analysis shows that buyers of specific hybrid models predominantly come from the vehicle segment shared by their new hybrid purchase. In 2007, 55 percent of new hybrid buyers previously had a midsize car, midsize SUV or small car model. These vehicle segments represent the majority of the volume in the hybrid category and indicate consumers may be predisposed to a body style first before choosing a hybrid model.

"In cases such as the Lexus LS600h, more than half of these buyers came from the prestige luxury segment," said Miller. "In the case of Honda Civic hybrid buyers, nearly 30 percent already had a small car in their driveway. There's a strong relationship between the vehicle previously owned and the segment they may buy when selecting a hybrid."

For manufacturers' marketing departments, these findings mean they may be able to repurpose some of the brand research and customer studies for non-hybrid models when creating new hybrid offerings or hybrid marketing campaigns. In addition, more luxury hybrids are available than ever before, allowing customers to obtain a hybrid without sacrificing features, amenities and performance they might otherwise be used to.

Geographic trends for the segment remain largely unchanged in 2007, with California continuing to hold 26 percent of the hybrid market share followed by Florida, New York, Texas and Washington. For the second year in a row, Oklahoma had the greatest increase, up nearly 148 percent.

Similarly, Los Angeles and San Francisco led cities nationwide. "The coasts continue to dominate the hybrid segment, though we continue to see gains in the Midwest as fuel prices hit home for the 'manufacturing belt' states," said Miller.