According to a study by component and tyre supplier Continental, one in four German motorists is considering buying a hybrid.

Lower fuel cost is the main incentive with pure environmental reasons less important.

Tax incentives would positively affect the purchase decision, according to Continental.

A huge debate is currently going on in Germany about switching to more environmental vehicle technology. The debate has arisen largely because German vehicle manufacturers have been protesting against proposed EU CO2 emissions limits of 130g per kilometre driven.

In some cases, the OEMs say they have tried to market fuel efficient vehicles but that customers are unwilling to pay the necessary premium for more environmentally-friendly technology.

The issue is not that the German manufacturers do not have appropriate technologies but that the market needs to be educated into paying more for them.

The German government is currently preparing a new vehicle ownership tax structure linked to CO2 emissions but it is also suggesting that domestic manufacturers use the CO2 debate as an opportunity to gain market leadership with low carbon technologies.

Continental is a supplier of hybrid technology and is keen to help develop a market.

"There definitely is a market. And it is steadily growing. We're bringing the right products at the right time," said Karl-Thomas Neumann, chairman of the management board of Continental's automotive systems division and member of the executive board of Continental AG.

"International market studies forecast rapid growth to 2m hybrid vehicles and more annually after 2012."

The Continental survey was conducted by TNS/Infratest at the end of last year, that is ahead of the current debate.

The market research firm surveyed 1,000 German motorists about hybrid drive technology. More than three-quarters of those questioned had already heard about this technology, although only a third was capable of coming anywhere near describing it.

Ninety percent of those surveyed assumed that fuel consumption would be less than with conventional drive technologies.

According to Continental, the anticipated fuel savings work out, on average, to around 25%. Two thirds of respondents reckoned on a higher initial outlay - EUR3,919 on average - than for a car with a conventional drive system.

Half of the motorists cited as "interesting" a hybrid system with lower fuel consumption and better acceleration. For such a hybrid, those surveyed would be prepared to shell out an extra EUR2,805 on average.

Continental has commissioned a second survey to see whether the recent discussion has triggered any further change in opinion. The results are due in May.