Toyota plans to begin commercial production of plug-in hybrids in 2012, producing between 20,000 and 30,000 units in the first year, according to Nikkei, the Japanese business daily. Toyota hopes to sell its plug-in hybrid for about $48,000.
According to Nikkei, Toyota’s plug-ins will run 12 to 18 miles on battery power alone at full charge. Plug-in hybrids can be cleaner than regular hybrids because they can run for longer periods purely on electricity—but the need for more batteries makes them expensive. The plug-in cars will use lithium ion batteries produced by Toyota’s joint venture with Panasonic Corp., Panasonic EV Energy, which provides the nickel metal hydride batteries for current Toyota hybrids.
The swifter move toward plug-in hybrids contradicts recent statements from Toyota executives. Masatami Takimoto, an executive vice president in research and development, last month told the Washington Post that the batteries required for plug-in cars are not ready. Takimoto said, “Fundamental issues are unsolved.” Bill Reinert, US national manager for advanced technology, appearing at a National Academy of Sciences panel in May said the plug-in market will be limited, and questioned the real-world mileage benefits of plug-in hybrids. And Irv Miller, Toyota group vice president of corporate communications, also speaking in May, said that the heavier battery pack required for plug-in hybrids becomes a “boat anchor” when they are depleted.
Later this year, Toyota will expand its evaluation of plug-in hybrids by leasing approximately 500 plug-in versions of its third-generation Prius. The leases will go to government agencies and corporations in Japan, the United States, and throughout Europe.