A large share of Americans see Toyota (41%) and Honda (40%) as being committed to making hybrid vehicles as widely used as their petrol counterparts, according to a survey.

Ford (14%), General Motors (13%) and Chrysler (8%) were viewed much less positively. Nissan (17%) and Volkswagen, at 17% and 16%, did slightly better.

“American automakers have to aggressively engage the public to change how they are being perceived,” said Raghavan Mayur, president of TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence.

TechnoMetrica surveyed 1,011 consumers in September for a report on hybrids and alternative fuels.

Petrol prices are helping to increase the appeal for hybrid cars that get better mileage by combining a petrol engine with a battery-powered electric. More than half (55%) of US car buyers are now likely to consider a hybrid for their next vehicle purchase.

“Persistently high petrol prices are helping to change how Americans view hybrids,” said Mayur.

In addition, TechnoMetrica found that more than half (56%) of Americans believe that hybrid cars are needed if the US is to become less dependent on foreign oil. And a majority (51%) thinks dependence on foreign oil is the single biggest threat facing the US economy.

“You just have to ask what is behind September’s 90% surge in the sales of the hybrid Toyota Prius,” said Mayur.

Key findings of the research include: 55% say high petrol prices are hurting them financially; the appeal of hybrids tends to increase with both income and education; 51% of households with incomes below US$30,000 say that they’d consider a hybrid car for their next purchase but the rate steadily climbs to 68% for incomes above $75,000; fuel efficiency now trumps the environment as hybrids’ key attraction; 57% say that they care more about fuel efficiency than environmental friendliness (23%).

Americans sense a lack of commitment, however, from the three players crucial to making hybrid vehicles as common as their petrol counterparts – the government, auto manufacturers and consumers, the survey found.