A new study by automotive supplier Continental has found that the recent debate in Germany about vehicles and CO2 emissions has increased considerably consumers' interest in buying cars with hybrid drives.

This spring, 30.7% of the motorists said that their next car would "certainly" or "most likely" be a hybrid vehicle. Before the climate debate started in autumn 2006, it was just 24.7%. The study also found that tax incentives would continue to greatly simplify the purchase decision.

Continental is a leading supplier of hybrid systems. "The study shows a clear trend that confirms what we thought: The market is there, and we as Continental can offer our customers in the automotive industry the right products at the right point in time," said Continental's Automotive Systems chairman Karl-Thomas Neumann.

"In Germany last year, private car buyers bought some 1.7m of the 3.47m cars purchased in total. If a good 30% would indeed buy a hybrid that would represent a market of 510,000 vehicles, which is of course not very realistic. But just the 4.1% of motorists who would definitely buy a hybrid vehicle according to the survey would mean 70,000 vehicles a year, which is a good start."

Continental noted that it surveyed only private car buyers. There is further potential for the technology amongst the 1.7m new vehicles purchased by fleets each year.

The survey was conducted by market research institute TNS/Infratest. At the end of last year - and thus before the current discussion about CO2 pollution got under way, it surveyed 1,000 German motorists on the topic of hybrid drive technology for the first time. A second wave followed about four months later, after the first two parts of the United Nation's climate report were released this spring.

According to the two surveys, more than three-quarters of those interviewed had already heard about hybrid technology, although only a third was capable of coming anywhere near describing it. Everyone agreed that a government incentive would have a significant impact: Two thirds of otherwise hesitant motorists would buy a hybrid vehicle if they were granted tax breaks. Under these conditions, nearly 70% of motorists would be interested in buying a hybrid car.