Greed -- not green -- drives sales of small, environmentally friendly cars, a top industry executive said on Tuesday.

Volvo Car Corp Chief Executive Stephen Odell said studies show environmentalism dropped below the top 10 reasons for buying a car last year as wary customers shunned showrooms.

The reason to opt for a fuel efficient smaller car was value for money driven by generous tax breaks. If it just so happens that you had a car that qualified for incentives...then that was great, he said, calling the shift a function of the economy.

European governments have promoted fuel efficient vehicles through tax breaks, a policy that has benefited mainly makers of smaller, cheaper cars rather than premium auto brands like Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Volvo.

Environmentalism as a driving factor for auto sales will come back as the economy starts to recover, Odell said.

The British executive who worked at Jaguar, Mazda and Ford before taking the helm at Volvo said the premium auto segment will not likely recover to 2007 levels until after 2012.

The economic crisis had hit Volvo hard because this time it also impacted people who had money. Volvo has laid off 25 percent of the workforce and agreed shortened working hours for remaining staff as a way to avert further layoffs.

Odell declined comment on the status of the sale of Volvo by parent Ford Motor Co but said he had met very interesting and interested people about a sale of the Swedish auto maker.

His first priority was still returning Volvo to profitability. Should a sale come he would like to see ownership change as quickly as possible but without haste.

Odell said Ford would ultimately decide on whether to sell and to whom, but added his personal preference for a potential purchaser would be someone who understands the brand. People I have spoken with have a good understanding of the brand.

Geely Holding Group Co, parent of China's Geely Automotive, has expressed interest in bidding for the Swedish group which media reports have valued at close to $2 billion.