Toyota gave America its first up-close look at the latest Prius Plug-in Hybrid (PHV) and offered several new details about this even more eco-friendly car that will begin field testing here in the U.S. starting in January. Based on the Gen III production Prius, the Plug-in takes the existing Hybrid Synergy Drive technology to a new level by swapping the existing nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) battery for a more efficient Lithium-ion (Li-ion) alternative. The change gives the PHV version greater EV only range -- up to 13 miles -- and will also allow it to travel up to 60 mph on electric power alone before reverting to normal gas/electric hybrid mode.
Unveiled at the Frankfurt Auto Show, the first 350 of these new Prius PHVs will hit the roads in Europe and Japan later this month as part of model programs with various business and government partners to help raise interest and awareness about PHV potential. Shortly thereafter, the final 150 units will arrive in America and be placed with "select partners" in regional clusters chosen for their unique types of driving environments. That format will allow Toyota to gain both technical information on the real-world strengths and weaknesses of this new package and better assess market potential and consumer response while championing the development of charging infrastructure. The first announced program involves a partnership with Xcel Energy's SmartGridCity program in Boulder, Colorado and the University of Colorado at Boulder Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute (RASEI). It will put 10 local residents behind the wheel of 10 Prius PHVs in a region ideally suited to assess the impact of both high altitude and low temperatures on its first-generation Li-ion battery pack. All 150 of the test vehicles will be equipped with data monitoring and retrieval systems to keep close tabs on how/when/where recharging takes place and see how much pure EV operation actually occurs.
So far, California, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C. also have signed on to the program, and Toyota says additional regions will be announced shortly. Irv Miller, TMS group vice president, environmental and public affairs see the effort as "a necessary first step in societal preparation, in that it allows us the unique opportunity to inform, educate and prepare customers for the introduction of plug-in hybrid technology. When these vehicles come to market, customers must understand what to expect -- and if this technology is the right fit for them."