July 25, 2007: Source – Reuters

Plug and Prius

Toyota unveiled a plug-in hybrid car based on its popular Prius model on Wednesday. Until this news, Toyota was sitting on the sidelines regarding plug-in technology, while nearly every other major car company has unveiled plans for producing cars that run on energy supplied by the electric grid. Toyota is not giving a timeline because of uncertainties regarding battery technology.

The vehicle, called Toyota Plug-in HV, displayed Wednesday runs on the same nickel metal hydride battery as the Prius and has a cruising range of 8 miles on electricity.

General Motors is the only company with a specific target date for a plug-in hybrid. It has set 2010 as a target for production of the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in series hybrid. Toyota remains cautious about assigning a date for production of a plug-in Prius.

The world’s biggest automaker said the car, called the Toyota Plug-in HV, was not fit for commercialisation since it uses low-energy nickel-metal hydride batteries instead of lithium-ion batteries believed to be a better fit for rechargeable plug-in cars.

Unlike earlier gasoline-electric hybrids, which run on a parallel system twinning battery power and a combustion engine, plug-in cars are designed to enable short trips powered entirely by the electric motor, using a battery that can be charged through an electric socket at home.

Many environmental advocates see them as the best available technology to reduce gasoline consumption and global-warming greenhouse gas emissions, but engineers say battery technology is still insufficient to store enough energy for long-distance travel.

"It’s difficult to say when plug-in hybrids could be commercialised, since it would depend largely on advances in battery technology," said Executive Vice President Masatami Takimoto, in charge of Toyota’s powertrain technology, told a news conference.

Notwithstanding the uncertain timing for the battery technology, Toyota’s announcement makes the likelihood of mass-produced plug-in hybrids even more certain.

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