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According to a new report from research company Mintel, sales of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles in the U.S. have risen 73% year-over-year, with nearly 440,000 vehicles sold to date in 2012.

The number of plug-in and electric models available to the public has nearly quadrupled over the year, from three models in 2011 to 11 available today And despite the dramatic growth in 2012, hybrids and EVs will make "even more headwind in the U.S. market over the coming years," the company says.

"New mid-size hybrid models, such as the Toyota Prius v and Chevrolet Malibu Eco, have proven popular with consumers, in particular families, who want to buy green without sacrificing other features that fit their lifestyles," says Colin Bird , automotive analyst at Mintel. "The segment will grow even further in 2013, with the launch of several new models, including the full Ford Fusion hybrid series and the Honda Accord hybrid, which will fulfill a wider variety of needs than conventional compact hybrids."

Consumer concern about the high and rising cost of fuel may drive the development of the market even further. More than one third (34%) of younger consumers aged 25-34 believe that "it is easy to make back the extra money spent on a hybrid car in savings at the pump," according to Mintel data.

However, there are still some hindering factors. Battery issues are a top concern among consumers, with 87% worrying about battery charge length and 86% concerned about not being able to find somewhere to recharge their vehicle. Another source of apprehension for 85% of U.S. consumers is the recharge time of plug-ins and EVs.

But price remains the biggest hurdle. Mintel's consumer survey showed that the average consumer was willing to spend about $2,000 more to upgrade from a conventional car to an electric-only version of the same car. Today's plug-in hybrids and EVs cost anywhere between $10,000 to $20,000 more than their conventional counterparts.

"The 'live for today' mentality that prompted the rise of SUVs has disappeared," Bird says. "Hybrid and electric cars might be positioned to help consumers weather the storm of future spikes at the pump, and they might be marketed as long-term investments that can help consumers protect against likely increases in gas prices."

Over the past nine years, the share of hybrid and electric cars has grown from virtually zero (0.5%) in 2004 to 3.3% of all vehicles sold in 2012. Mintel forecasts sales of hybrid and electric cars to exceed 535,000 units by the end of 2013, or a 14% increase in sales over 2012 estimates. By 2017, sales of hybrid and electric vehicles are expected to reach 850,000 units, accounting for 5% of the total U.S. car market.

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