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Monday, 4 February 2008

Plug-in hybrids for Toyota

Toyota Will Offer a Plug-In Hybrid by 2010

The Toyota Motor Corporation, which leads the world’s automakers in sales of hybrid-electric vehicles, announced Sunday night that it would build its first plug-in hybrid by 2010.

The move puts Toyota in direct competition with General Motors, which has announced plans to sell its own plug-in hybrid vehicle, the Chevrolet Volt, sometime around 2010.

Mr. Watanabe said Toyota, best known for its Prius hybrid car, would develop a fleet of plug-in hybrids that run on lithium-ion batteries, instead of the nickel-metal hydride batteries that power the Prius and other Toyota models.

Plug-in hybrids differ from the current hybrid vehicles in that they can be recharged externally, from an ordinary power outlet. In a conventional hybrid the battery is recharged from power generated by its wheels.

Mr. Watanabe said the lithium-ion fleet would be made available first to Toyota’s commercial customers around the world, like government agencies and corporations, including some in the United States. He did not say when they would be available to consumers.

The Volt also is set to run on lithium-ion batteries, which are more expensive than the batteries currently used by Toyota, but which can potentially power the vehicle for a longer time.

Additionally, Toyota said it planned to develop a new hybrid-electric car specifically for its Lexus division as well as another new hybrid for the Toyota brand. It said it would unveil both at the 2009 Detroit show.

Mr. Watanabe also said Toyota planned to offer diesel engines for its Tundra pickup truck and the Sequoia sport utility vehicle “in the near future,” but was not more specific.

The automaker announced last July that it was testing plug-in hybrids on public roads in Japan. It also is testing them in France, Toyota officials said Sunday, and it has given prototype versions of plug-in hybrid vehicles to university researchers in California.

It has two nickel-metal hydride batteries under the floor of its trunk, instead the conventional Prius’s single battery.

Unlike the Prius, which has a single fuel-filler door on the left side of the car, the plug-in model has another door on the right hand side that opens to reveal an outlet for the electrical charger. One end of the charger looks like a small fuel nozzle; the other end is a conventional three-pronged plug.

Each charge, which takes about four hours, uses the equivalent of 2.7 kilowatt hours of electricity, said Jaycie Chitwood, a senior strategic planner in Toyota’s advanced technologies group.

Inside the car, there is a button with the letters “EV” inside an outline of a car. If the driver pushes the button, the car reverts to electric vehicle mode, meaning the Prius is powered completely by its two batteries.

In electric mode, the Prius gets 99.9 miles a gallon, according to a gauge on a screen in the middle of the dashboard.

But it cannot go very far: the plug-in hybrid’s two batteries hold enough power for only seven miles, said Saúl Ibarra, a product specialist with Toyota who worked on developing the Prius. source

My comment: Cool, ay? I love the idea to be able to charge the car from a random place, though I hope it could be recharged by the wheels too. This way we could benefit from the both technologies. Anyway, it's great to see that big automakers to make new hybrid models. I bet 10 years from now people will wonder how we ever used oil to power a car. At least I hope it will happen this way.

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