Monday, January 19, 2009

Toyota to Introduce Plug-in Hybrid Prius This Year

At the North American International Automotive Show, in Detroit, Toyota announced that, later this year, it will release a version of the Prius hybrid car whose battery can be recharged from an ordinary power outlet. By moving up the delivery date of the plug-in vehicle--originally scheduled for 2010--Toyota has slipped ahead of GM, whose Chevy Volt plug-in is promised for late 2010.

Toyota's devotion to hybrid technology contrasts with others such as Renault and Mitsubishi, which are planning to leapfrog the hybrid in favor of fully battery-powered electric vehicles (EVs). At the auto show, several U.S. automakers appear to be leaning in the same direction, with Ford Motor, in particular, vowing to release an EV commercial van next year and an EV commuter car in 2011.

While Toyota is developingg a battery-powered EV and promising to begin selling an EV commuter car in the United States by 2012, they ruled out abandoning hybrid technology anytime soon, issuing a definitive statement on the eve of the Detroit show calling hybrids its "long-term core powertrain technology."

The 2010 Prius available to consumers will still come equipped with a nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) battery pack and no plug, but Toyota says that it is "plug-in ready"--designed and engineered to accept a lighter and more energy-dense lithium-ion battery pack that can be charged from the grid. Toyota will also produce 500 lithium-powered plug-in Priuses for its commercial and government leasing customers starting later this year. Toyota-Panasonic joint venture Panasonic EV Energy will supply the lithium batteries.

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