Toyota to sell plug-in hybrids to consumers in 2 years

TOKYO Mon Dec 14, 2009 8:49am EST

1 of 3. A Toyota Motor Corp. staff demonstrates how to recharge 'Prius Plug-in Hybrid' car at its showroom in Tokyo December 14, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Issei Kato

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TOKYO (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp will begin selling "affordable" plug-in hybrid cars in 2011, upping the ante on General Motors and Nissan Motor as they aim to take the lead in the field of rechargeable cars.

Toyota's first plug-in model, the Prius Plug-In Hybrid (PHV), adds an external charging function and more batteries to the popular Prius to enable longer-distance driving on electricity alone.

Because it can also run on gasoline, plug-in hybrids -- such as GM's upcoming Volt due for sale next year -- eliminate the "range anxiety" seen as one of the main shortcomings of battery-powered pure electric cars.

The Prius PHV can travel 23.4 km (14.5 miles) using only the electric motor, making a short commute possible on zero emissions, Toyota said. On a full charge and full tank of gas, the car could theoretically travel 1,400 km (870 miles), it said.

Nissan's pure electric Leaf car due for sale in 2010 has a range of 160 km (100 miles) on a single charge.

Toyota, the world's biggest automaker and by far the top seller of gasoline-electric hybrid cars, said it would aim to sell "several tens of thousands" of plug-in hybrid cars to the general public in an "affordable" price range.

Executive Vice President Takeshi Uchiyamada, Toyota's R&D chief and father of the original Prius, declined to specify a price range but indicated it would likely be far cheaper than 3 million yen ($33,770).

"Nowadays in the United States, they sell after-market kits for about 1 million yen ($11,260)" to convert a hybrid car into a plug-in, he told a presentation on Monday. "Of course, we would have to do much better than that as a mass producer."

The third-generation Prius starts at 2.05 million yen in Japan and $22,400 in the United States.

Uchiyamada said he expects the mass-produced plug-in cars -- which may not take the shape of the Prius -- to be sold globally.

The Chevrolet Volt, on track to become the first mass-market plug-in hybrid in the United States, could cost as much as $40,000 before a $7,500 consumer tax credit is applied, GM has said. The U.S. automaker expects to sell about 10,000 Volts in the first year of production and 60,000 in its second full year.

PLUG-IN PRIUS LEASING BEGINS

Toyota will begin leasing its Prius PHV globally this month, starting with 100 to the French city of Strasbourg. By mid-2010, it will have about 600 on lease, mostly to governments and businesses in Japan, the United States and Europe.

"The arrival of these new generation plug-in hybrid vehicles in our urban landscape will open a new chapter in our transport policy," Strasbourg Mayor Roland Ries said at a hand-over ceremony in Tokyo.

Strasbourg has 300 recharging stations and has been a leader in efforts for sustainable mobility.

The Prius PHV would be Toyota's first to employ lithium-ion batteries, which are costly but can store more energy than the nickel-metal hydride batteries used in most gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles today.

The Prius PHV can reach a top speed of 100 km/h (62 mph) in the electric motor mode and gets a combined EV and hybrid mileage of 57.0 km/liter (134 mpg). It emits just 59 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer, as measured under European rules.

Despite carrying about 120 kg of extra batteries, the Prius PHV gets Japanese listed mileage of 30.6 km/liter in hybrid-only mode, slightly better than the regular Prius because the bigger battery can more efficiently capture lost energy during braking and coasting, Uchiyamada said.

Toyota said the Prius PHV could halve the running cost of traveling 30 km compared with a regular Prius when using cheaper, nighttime electricity. The car can be fully charged in about 100 minutes at 200 Volts and three hours at 100 Volts.

GM's Volt is designed to run for 40 miles on a single battery charge. Unlike Toyota's two-motor series parallel hybrid system, GM uses a conventional engine to generate electricity to power the motor when the battery is empty.

(Editing by Joseph Radford)