As it prepares to show the world the latest plug-in version of its new Gen III Prius, Toyota has confirmed that it will produce a limited run of 500 of these super-efficient vehicles for extended demonstration and technical evaluation purposes, with 150 of them set for service in America starting early next year.
Toyota says the cars that come here will all be allocated to various commercial and institutional fleet duty on a lease program designed to most effectively help the automaker learn more about how the plug-in hybrid powertrain, and specifically how its new Lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery pack, will perform in real-world daily use. The battery in the 2010 conventional production Prius is still based on the more common nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) chemistry. Although that clearly aging technology suffers by comparison to the emerging Li-ion design due to its inferior overall power density and packaging, engineers are far more familiar with its operating properties and parameters in automotive hybrid applications. That extensive knowledge base was one of the main reasons why Ford elected to use a Ni-MH battery in its new 2010 Fusion Hybrid -- and it definitely influenced Toyota's decision to limit the initial scale of its changeover to ensure that any potential glitches can be discovered and corrected early on.
Irv Miller, group vice president of environmental and public affairs for Toyota Motor Sales USA, noted that the automaker has a lot riding on this program. "Future customers will have high expectations for these emerging technologies. This Prius PHV fleet program is a key first step in confirming how and when we might bring large numbers of plug-in hybrids to global markets."