Plugging Into the Future
Toyota takes the next step with a plug-in version of the Prius
The current plan is for a plug-in version of the Prius with a more powerful lithium-ion battery than what's used in the current model; this would in turn boost the fuel economy, as the vehicle could travel farther on all-electric power. Toyota said the plug-in gets about 135 mpg (with a 14.5 mile, all-electric distance limit, at up to 37 mph, on a single charge), though those numbers do not reflect U.S. road-test conditions. The top speed will be a moderate 62 mph.
The current rollout plan is to introduce a limited number of the plug-in vehicles -- 230 in Japan, 150 in the U.S. and 200 in Europe -- over the first half of 2010. Those vehicles will be going to businesses and governments. The price has yet to be determined for when it goes on sale in wide release in 2011, as the company has yet to gauge demand.
Speaking of demand, a quick view of the specs seems to suggest something is lacking: While Prius is the name-brand hybrid vehicle, a plug-in with a 14.5 mile limit in all-electric driving, with a top speed of 62 mph, hardly competes with the other new models set to roll out in the same time frame. The Chevy Volt, for example, is said to reach 100 mph and can go nearly three times the distance -- 40 miles -- on all-electric power. The fully electric Nissan Leaf can go 100 miles on a single charge, though its top speed is somewhat more restrained than the Volt, at 87 mph.
We get that Toyota is looking to fill a (possible) demand for eco-friendly, low-cost commuter vehicles, but considering the current Prius is hardly a budget car at $22,400 to $27,670, how does the company think this car will compete in the U.S. market with other, hyped EVs and hybrids that have more impressive numbers? A name brand will only take you so far for so long.
(Sources: USA Today, Top Speed, Autoblog; photo from Koji Sasahara, AP, via USA Today.)
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