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LONDON (Kyodo) British drivers lag far behind their Japanese counterparts when it comes to understanding greener motoring, according to a recent survey by Honda Motor Co., which put its new Civic Hybrid car on sale this week in London.

More than half of British motorists surveyed were not even aware of the existence of hybrid cars, and of those drivers who said they had heard of hybrids, more than 40 percent did not know how they work — through a combination of a conventional gasoline engine and an electric motor.

Incorrect answers about hybrids — from among the 1,200 British drivers surveyed on their attitudes toward the environment and their understanding of alternative fuel vehicles — included “two cars welded together” and “a car made by more than one manufacturer.”

Graham Avent, spokesman for Honda (U.K.), said he thought Japanese may be more aware of greener motoring alternatives because Japanese carmaker Honda is leading the way in the development of hybrids, whereas Britain is far behind in development of environmentally friendly automotive technology.

“In the U.K., it was interesting to know that we were launching a car into a market where there was little understanding and many misconceptions,” Avent said of the latest model of the Civic Hybrid, which goes on sale across Britain on Saturday.

Of the 130,000 hybrid models Honda has sold worldwide, the majority are driven in the United States, with Japan unsurprisingly the second-biggest market.

Avent explained that Britain is already third in terms of sales of hybrid cars but that the number of their drivers needs to increase dramatically, not only for Honda’s sake, but for the environment’s as well.

“Hybrids are very important as a way of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by as much as a third for every person we can convert from their conventional petrol cars,” the Honda spokesman said, arguing that this is an issue both car manufacturers and the government need to address.

Honda’s survey revealed some worrying trends for greens. Less than one-fifth of British drivers saw it as their responsibility to lessen the environmental impact of their vehicles, with the top motivating factor for considering buying a hybrid car being lower fuel costs rather than the environmental benefits.

Avent believes that British motorists’ seemingly dismissive attitude is the result of an “awareness gap” stemming from the fact that only a few automakers, including Honda and Toyota, are pushing hybrid technology.

“Noise about hybrids has been lost among all the information about other alternative-fuel vehicles,” Avent said, explaining that people often confuse them with unattractive and impractical electric-only cars that need frequent recharging. As a result, buyers are instantly put off purchasing a hybrid.

But far from being disillusioned by British motorists’ lack of knowledge about greener cars, Avent said it is only a matter of time before “the message gets through.”

“When people understand all the facts and hybrids become more mainstream, then in turn greater awareness will come about and we’ll be moving towards environmentally friendly motoring,” he said, adding that the biggest obstacle to weaning drivers away from their gasoline or diesel cars is simply to get more hybrids on the streets.

Vehicle output up 3%

The Associated Press

Domestic auto production rose 3 percent in February from the same month a year ago, marking the fourth straight month of gains, an industry group said Thursday.