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Toyota Moving Toward Making the Prius Plug-In-Only...Or Not

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On: Thu, May 12, 2011 at 5:40PM | By: Chris Weiss

Toyota Moving Toward Making the Prius Plug-In-Only...Or Not

The 50-mpg Toyota Prius is already a tour de force, leading the green-vehicle market for years. Toyota is looking ahead to the next generation of Prii to make the successful model even more efficient.

The Prius Plug-In will launch around the world next year. That model will offer EV-only driving ability thanks to the high-performance lithium-ion battery that can be recharged directly from a standard 120V outlet. Toyota says that the car will be able to offer gas/electric range of up to 475 miles. While the plug-in version will be sold alongside the standard Prius, Japanese paper Nikkei reported this week that Toyota plans to make the plug-in powertrain the Prius standard by 2014.

After the news spread like wildfire, Toyota refuted the report, indicating that it sees the plug-in Prius as more of a small-economy car with less appeal than the regular Prius hybrid.

John Hanson, a spokesman for Toyota, told USA Today: "We see this market as being a small percentage of our hybrid market. We don't see it as a car for everybody."

Regardless of what eventually happens, the plan to slowly electrify its line seems like a solid one. According to the original Nikkei report, Toyota would use the Prius Plug-In as a sort of stepping stone, with eventual plans to offer fully electric vehicles. In that way, the company would avoid moving faster than technology, as some might argue Nissan did with the 100-mile Leaf. Instead, Toyota would continue delivering improved efficiency, while keeping its offerings as practical and user-friendly as possible.

The standard Prius has long led the hybrid market and has sold more than 2 million models worldwide. Until the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt hit the market late last year, it held a role as the annual EPA list-topper for fuel efficiency. Over the course of more than 10 years on the market, the Prius increased efficiency all the way up to its 2011 50-mpg combined rating, while being sold at an attractive price ($23,050 2011 base price)

With the Prius Plug-In, Toyota will offer even more fuel-economy potential while delivering a product that is more practical than either the Leaf or the Volt. Thanks to the fact that it's a hybrid, the Prius won't suffer from the range issues of the Leaf. When compared with the Volt, it can be charged in about half the time—three hours from a 120V outlet. It's expected to be well cheaper than the $40,280 Volt. The new plug-in will also be able to capitalize on the strong branding of the Prius name.

Toyota says in describing the Prius Plug In: "The idea of battery-powered cars is cool. But in reality, the weight, size, cost and durability of the large-capacity batteries required to fully power Electric Vehicles (EV) are critical issues that aren't fully solved. Our answer? Small lithium-ion battery packs that complement the proven Prius hybrid-electric power train."

So, instead of rushing into an electric vehicle, as other companies are doing, Toyota will use the plug-in Prius until battery technology has evolved far enough to make EVs both efficient and practical.

If we take Toyota at its word, it looks like the Prius Plug-In will not serve as the standard Prius. However, the company does hope the model will help drive hybrid sales up to a million per year by 2015, up from 700,000 last year.


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