Toyota Promises an ‘Affordable’ Plug-In Prius in 2011
Posted by Corey Kaster on December 15, 2009
The moment we’ve been waiting for us is here: Toyota has announced it will offer a plug-in Prius to the masses in 2011 and it will be an “affordable” car, offering triple-digit fuel economy.
The world’s No. 1 automaker has for years offered a litany of reasons why adding a cord to the world’s most popular hybrid wasn’t as easy as all those enthusiasts who have done it would have you believe. There were questions about range, reliability and cost. But it seems Toyota has at last answered them, and today it announced it will offer the plug-in Prius in “widespread release” as a 2012 model.
So what made Toyota finally get off the dime? Could it be that the company that made hybrid a household word is a wee bit worried about losing the green mantle to General Motors or Nissan? After all, theChevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf electric vehicles roll into showrooms at the end of next year.
The New York Times says Toyota has “scrambled to gain the upper hand in an increasingly crowded battle over next-generation ‘green’ technology.” It’s a fair assessment, now that everyone’s jumping on the hybrid bandwagon. You know it’s a crowded field when there’s a Porsche Cayenne hybrid and even a Tata Nano hybrid on the horizon.
Clearly Toyota needs to do something if it is to retain its rep for innovation. And when you look at what Toyota is bringing to the showrooms, the plug-in Prius is a fairly nice piece of kit. For starters, it will be the first Toyota with lithium-ion batteries. It will allow the corded car to travel 14.5 miles on electricity alone. Not much, but it’s a start. More impressive is the fuel economy — Toyota’s claiming 134 mpg.
The Times notes Toyota is throwing its considerable weight behind hybrids and won’t be looking at battery electrics or other alt fuels anytime soon.
“We have been working on developing efficient powertrains to be able to use oil as efficiently as possible. Many hurdles remain for alternative fuels,” Takeshi Uchiyamada, Toyota’s executive vice president, told the Times. He went further when he talked to the Wall Street Journal: “Toyota believes that plug-in hybrids are a realistic solution among vehicles using electricity.”
Toyota is developing the batteries through its partnership with Panasonic, which has provided the nickel-metal hydride batteries in the Prius we all know and love. Production started last month at its Teiho factory in Japan, but Bloomberg reports future batteries could be sourced from other suppliers, such as Sanyo Electric Company.
Although we won’t see the plug-in Prius in showrooms until 2011, Toyota is rolling out 500 of them in the coming months. It’s providing 350 of them to municipal fleets in Japan to further refine the technology. Another 150 are slated for fleets in the United States early next year. Toyota will collect info on a variety of topics, including how and when the vehicles are charged, whether the batteries are depleted and how they are performing.
No word on what the plug-in Prius will cost, but Uchiyamada promised it will be “affordable.” The 2010 Prius starts at $22,400.
Photos: Jim Merithew / Wired.com