Toyota Speeds Up Plug-In Prius, Chevy Counter-Punches

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The difference lies in how the two vehicles trade off between their electric motors and combustion engines. A plug-in Prius alters the balance between using its engine and running in pure electric mode—more electric, less engine compared to a standard Prius—but still swaps frequently between the two.

The Volt, on the other hand, is a pure electric vehicle for its first 40 miles. The gasoline engine only kicks in after that, but never powers the wheels. Instead, it turns a generator that recharges the battery pack—which powers the car through its electric motor, the sole way to make the car move. (GM incessantly points out that two-thirds of Americans drive less than 40 miles a day, inferring that many Volt owners might never get to the point where the car switches on its engine.)

In the run-up to sales of the Volt—which GM has now started to hint could happen sooner than late 2010—you should expect to hear a lot more about why the Volt isn’t a “plug-in hybrid” but an “extended-range electric car.” GM has already publicized the vehicle more than any other upcoming vehicle. Its goal is to garner green points from a public that associates Toyota with good fuel economy… and Chevrolet with huge SUVs and pickup trucks.

But it’s an interesting PR challenge. Given that Toyota spent several years saying you didn’t have to plug in the Prius, how ready are consumers to hear about the differences among different types of cars that all have power cords? Stay tuned.

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  • Samie

    Volt and the Plug-in Prius will not be priced the same. Also I find it interesting to see what Toyota does with the Prius brand. Not having lithium batteries in the new plug-in Prius could be an enormous disadvantage. The question in 2010 will be if GM actually decides to crank out any real production of the Volt. I also don’t want GM to lease out the Volt technology to others, we have seen how bad this strategy has been for consumers. Not seeing Toyota “moving forward” lets see if they will be able to reclaim Prius as the king of hybrids once more competition arrives.

  • Trent

    The Volt is a nice concept, however one of my concerns would be how long the lithium-ion battery pack lasts. Toyota has put a lot of R&D into maximizing the life of the nickel-metal hydride battery pack in the Prius. I believe one of the ways they do this is to have the engine keep the battery pack charge levels between 60%-90%. It will be interesting to see what GM’s plans are to address this.

  • steved28

    Samie, read the article again. The plug-in Prius will use LiON, the regular hybrid will use NiMH.

    As a hybrid driver who more than doubled my mileage with my car, I am pretty happy with “just” a hybrid. However I would love to buy (afford) a PHEV. I would most likely choose a proven 10 mile EV range at a lighter price tag than beta test a 40 mile range at a higher price tag. But I do like the concept of the serial hybrid, it’s got to be a simpler drive line with the electric motor driving the wheels. I hope it is successful, not because I can run out and buy one, but because it hopefully opens the technology in the future. Note to GM: Don’t go sell it off to Exxon.

  • William

    Last I heard GM will maintain the Volt’s battery between 35%-85% SoC, with an expected battery life of ~10 years. The Tesla Roadster, on the other hand, will use the entire range of the battery, yielding an expected battery life of ~5 years. If you want more information about the Volt, I recommend going to

  • Samie

    Thanks for the correction steved28. Sorry read the article too quickly. Got confused w/ the regular 2010 Prius model and the 2011? Plugin model. I do wonder if the 2011 or 2012 reg. Prius will have the LiON battery? Also does anyone know if the plug-in Prius will be produced in the U.S? As for GM you are right on about the big oil crowd, did see a TV ad by one of the oil producers championing their role in developing battery technology for new cars. Scary if you ask me, and hopefully Wagner will not get back in bed with those same oil producers that have helped contribute to the long delays in domestic production of hybrid vehicles. Again thanks Steve

  • jvoelcker

    Sorry the next-gen production Prius (for 2010) and the experimental current-gen Prius adapted to plug-in are kinda confusing in the piece. Had to keep it streamlined.

    There’s some thought that the next-gen Prius might switch packs to Li-ion halfway through, but unclear as yet. The first Li-ion hybrid is likely to be a mild-hybrid (idle-stop) Mercedes-Benz S-Class to be revealed this fall, perhaps at the Paris Auto Show.

  • Hal Howell

    I think that’s great news for both Toyota and Chevy. I probably won’t be able to afford the Chevy Volt and do drive a Prius (’07). I get great mileage and like one poster happy with “just” a hybrid.
    However, I don’t understand the venom against the oil companies. What have they done except produce the fuel that has made our economy the powerhouse it is? All the oil companies are publicly owned which means they are owned by people like you and me if you have an IRA or 401k or just own stock. How far would even a hybrid go with out gasoline? Even a Volt has to have gasoline to go more than 40 miles. Get real folks, you are drinking the liberal kool-aide!! “BIG” oil is not the problem painted by stupid politicians. If there is anyone who IS the problem today, its BIG and STUPID government. Pelosi didn’t even know that natural gas is a fossil fuel that has to be drilled for.

  • jvoelcker

    Hal: Can you source that comment on Pelosi not knowing that natural gas is a fossil fuel that requires drilling? Great anecdote if it’s supported by fact — let me know!

  • Tim Walden

    Here’s one link to her appearance on Meet The Press (24 Aug 08) where she repeatedly referred to Natural Gas as an alternative to fossil fuels.

  • steved28

    I don’t always agree with what Hal says, but he’s right on about big oil. We all love to play the blame game. Are we going to blame big cows if we have a shortage of milk?

    We all create the demand for oil. Can’t blame the dope dealer for your addiction, if there is an alternative. Yet time after time those of us who took a chance with hybrids are asked to “justify” our purchases, prove our “return on investment” (as if any car was ever an investment). But if you pay extra for the big V8, you don’t have to explain anything.

  • Anonymous

    Whats the final word on a Prius wagon? At this point a wagon seems just as important as a plug-in.

  • Samie

    Love to here the comments on how big oil is not bad, what have they done? How about mingling with the battery comany that supplied the Big 3 with failed batteries for hybrids (that was my criticism in the post above). What troubles me also is that they lobby hard against taking away thier subsides, w/c I consider government waste by the way. Clearly by profits and the industry in general, they do not want to see alternatives to their products ( that is the ones they don’t have direct influence over.) Remember the campaign they had against the EV1? Granted they are capitiliest looking out and protecting thier product and brand w/c is not bad if you look at it in that narrow context.

    But what choices do we really have besides petroleum based products in most of our cars? Pushing towards having options like electrical systems instead of fuel based gasoline vehicles is not a bad thing. Not anti- big oil , (the issue is a lot more complex then that,) I would love to see more development for alternatives as competing ways of energy in the transportation sector.

    As for Pelosi you hit it on the head kind of clueless champining natural gas. Did she spend 50K or 70K investing in the Pickins Plan? Sounds shady to me for a politician to do that. Yes Government can be part of the problem, but it also can be part of the solution.

  • Waltz

    “Can’t blame the dope dealer for your addiction, if there is an alternative” steved28 show me the alternative, you say the Prius is an alternative? That’s interesting but a very weak statement. If you had a plugin Prius I would get it, but you don’t. You fill your car up like everyone else. As for Hal not sure what kool aide jar you’ve been drinking from. Wish life was as simple as steved28 & Hal Howell’s analogizes on the energy crisis. Guess I better start drinking “the kool aid”
    Cheers Steve & Hal!

  • RKRB

    Waltz: A Prius bumper sticker might say “My car is probably destroying the planet more slowly than your car.”

  • RKRB

    Hal has my vote for being PC (Propulsively Correct). Thanks for the link to the website too (our esteemed politicians should be Real Experts about natural gas). As one physicist said, “the enemy of knowledge is not so much ignorance as a false belief that we know the answer.” (Obama, take note!)

    Seriously, it’s good to see GM, Toyota, and many other companies and investors trying to do something good for us all. It’s also good to have the energy companies trying to help supply –OUR– demand and trying to find alternatives, too. I hope enough people will continue the demand for hybrids and helping out in other ways as well. This website is a good step in the right direction, too.

  • Waltz

    “My car is probably destroying the planet more slowly than your car.” Maybe w/ an astrick that says self-righteous under the saying. Doesn’t matter much what one Prius does, but collectively if a majority around the world switch to lower CO2 producing vehicles Yes.

    “It’s also good to have the energy companies trying to help supply –OUR– demand and trying to find alternatives, too.” I feel like giving someone a huge after that statement.
    I would say its good to have oil companies make U.S history in record profits while needing subsides to stay afloat convincing people w/ wishy washy commercials about half truths on caring for the environment, people in developing countries, and smoke-n-mirror/ drop n the bucket alternatives.

    RKRB read ALL the posts again: As for Hal he didn’t cite the statement, he just brought it up in his post. Tim Walden deserves credit for the citation.
    I’m waiting for steve28 to tell me about about the “Alternatives” most Americans have to oil products for their cars. Plugin hybrids & EVs must be abundant where Steve lives.

  • Dave Black

    Prius needs competition for the sake of the consumer but the biggest thing that needs to change is the false perception of need people have for certain vehicles. For example, when you compare Prius in price, depreciation, fuel mileage vs a Corolla, simple logic tells you the Corolla is a better choice, but the “smug factor” as pointed out by a South Park episode, is alive and well and will sell Prius. The next gen Corolla and Camry will be more fuel efficient which will blur the lines, muddy the waters further.
    I see it everyday, selling Toyotas, people come here looking for fuel economy and the best built cars in the world, which I truly believe Toyotas are but their mindset is the same when they leave as when they came in. Most people buy cars that are way more capable than they really need and then they get upside down financially in them. I see it especially bad in domestic brands and Kia, Suzuki, the cars do not hold any value, so they come in here wanting to dump their “hemi” and cant believe that its worth 1/2 of what they owe on it, it is the American dream gone bad. What is called for is lifestyle change, we cannot solve a problem at the same level of consciousness that created it.
    For example, in my neighborhood everyone owns more than one vehicle per driver, its a status symbol that will not go away. My family has one pickup even though we are spread over 5 households, the truck is always available as a backup vehicle or job, chore vehicle, not as a daily driver. We also have one Motorhome for vacations and transporting a large group that we all use. The same model could be used for neighborhoods when it comes to vehicles, internet access (community wifi), community TV system, and other things, again mindset, lifestyle adjustments.
    Want to change the world, change your thinking.

  • Marion Tamse

    The new Toyota Prius would still be a GOLF CART when using pure electric mode. We need cars that can be run on pure electric mode at freeway speeds of 55mph to 75 mph. That way, we can have an option of not buying any gasoline. Part of our daily commute, even if just 10 miles one way, is we have to use the freeway. The new Prius design would still use gasoline when you are driving at freeway speed. This design would still tie us up forever to buying oil and funding the people who would love to kill us.

    Is Toyota planning a vehicle that can run on normal freeway speeds (55-75 mph) in pure electric mode? If it can’t be done, then that is not the car that I would be interested. But I hope Toyota will make it happen one of these days, it is just disappointing that the new Prius is not capable.

    Many of us in our prime working age will be using the freeway to reach our workplaces, even for using short distances. It is true that you can use the Prius in pure electric mode if you are an elderly group driving residential streets in your retirement, aka, Neigborhood Electric Car or Golf cart for short and the new Prius design is just one of them.

  • Shines

    I have to react when you say:
    We need cars that can be run on pure electric mode at freeway speeds of 55mph to 75 mph.
    We do? We need them? I thought we needed better public transportation?
    Why do we need all electric cars? So we can become dependent on electricity? I’m playing the devil’s advocate here, but what if the electric grid can’t handle the extra need for energy from all the electric vehicles, so they raise rates so much that people can’t afford to light their homes and keep their food fresh in their fridges. Then is everyone going to complain about how the electric companies are in bed with politicians and electric vehicle manufacturers?
    I think the Volt is a great concept and becomes a reliable option for American drivers. Will it make the Prius an obsolete golf cart? I seriously doubt it.
    What we need and what we would like to see are not the same thing.
    After all, maybe you could find an appartment within walking (or bicycle riding) distance of your workplace then you could use your legs (which are in their prime right?) to get to work, and you wouldn’t need a car at all.

  • Marion Tamse

    that is why I am going solar. The price of solar PV has gone down to become feasible, to free me from the uncertainties of electric rates.

    Anyway, for the sake of simple computation of capacity:
    If ALL commuter cars are switched to electric, and the people will only charge at night, the current grid can support up to 80% of the converted cars. That is from a study conducted both by NREL and DOE.

    But in reality, cars will not be switched over to electric instantly, and so there will be slowly ramping up of capacity, but rest assured, that at the rate of conversion, it won’t be achieved even in 20 years. So we have no capacity to worry about as currently we can support 80% of all commuting cars going electric.

    Now, the grid-tied solar PV would be a perfect match, heavenly at that. If you install solar PV or even the various rest areas along the freeway will have solar farms, and all business roofs have solar PV, there wouldn’t be any need to build a single electric generating power plant. Like the electric cars, solar PV is declining in prices and the ramping up of production will match that of electric cars. And most of all, the solar PV can produce power during peak demands on site where needed, so you reduce the investment on infrastructure of grid lines. We also have thermal solar plants that are now competing in cost as low as coal plants. Some Solar thermal plants uses molten salt technology to provide power even at night.

    As everyone cannot be persuaded to go about switching to electric cars, likewise not everyone can be persuaded to go solar.

  • steved28

    Waltz, the alternative at this point in time is to use less. And the vast majority of US citizens can use less. I bought a hybrid, switched my water heating source to a 99% efficient electric on demand unit, purchased a second pellet stove, installed a unit which allows inductive loads to use 25% less amperage, put a close line in the back yard, and removed most of my parasitic loads in the house. I use less than half the fossil fuels I did 2 years ago. If everyone did this, we would not import barrel one.

    It’s not just about cars, it’s about our wasteful, spoiled lifestyle. I never said we could stop the flow of oil now, or that I am not reliant upon it, but I make every effort to use as little as possible until the solutions are in place to use none at all. There’s that route, or yours. (bitch and moan about it)

  • Bill Howland

    I don’t blame Big Oil Per Se, but they occassionally do things behind the scenes that are troubling:

    1). Chevron’s egging on Clinton to attack Somalia.
    2). Exxon’s suing of the placement of a ‘small’ refinery in Texas by a very small competitor.
    3). Secretive meetings between VP RC, British Petroleum and Chevron.
    4). Constant federal subsidies ( aka Corporate Welfare ) to the Oil, Gas, and Nuclear industries.

    I’ll agree that Big Oil should be left alone, but they shouldn’t do things to hamper legal competition, nor steal $ from my wallet. They should make their lucrative investments out of money they themselves earn.

  • omnimoeish

    Add to your list the fact that Chevron bought the battery technology GM used in the EV1. Gee, look what they’ve done with it. There are also a plethora of gas saving technological improvements that the oil companies now own the patents on too including the fish carburator which came out back in the 70’s. Pretty much the only way we have of saving fuel is by keeping our tires pumped up to manufacturer specs and driving carefully.

  • Greg

    OMNIMOEISH: you hit the nail on the head, it’s about time! THANK YOU.

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