Toyota Unleashes plug-in Hybrid Car

by : Joe Ratzkin

According to Chang-Ran Kim's writing for Reuters on Wednesday, Toyota Motor Corp. unleashed a "plug-in" hybrid car based on its popular Prius model. The report said that it would test the fuel-saving vehicle on public roads, which is another first for the industry.

But the Japan-based car maker claimed that the car, which is called the Toyota Plug-in HV, was not suited for commercialization purposes because it uses low-energy nickel-metal hydride batteries rather than lithium-ion batteries, which are believed to be a better fit for rechargeable plug-in cars.

Not like earlier gasoline-electric hybrids, which run on a parallel system twinning battery power and a combustion engine, the plug-in cars are built to enable short trips powered entirely by the electric motor, through a battery that can be charged by using an electric socket at home.

A number of environmental endorsers see them as the best available technology in order to minimize gasoline consumption and global-warming greenhouse gas emissions. But engineers claim that battery technology is still not enough to store enough energy for long-distance travel.

Executive Vice President Masatami Takimoto, the person in charge of Toyota's powertrain technology, told a news conference that it is hard to say when the plug-in hybrids could be commercialized for the reason that it would largely depend on advances in battery technology.

Scheduled to be tested also in the United States and Europe, the Toyota Plug-in HV possesses a cruising range of just 13 km or 8 miles on one charge, even with its trunk full of batteries.

Two of Detroit's Big Three - General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. - are also working on plug-in hybrids, in alliance with battery makers such as Germany's Continental AG.

In January, GM revealed a concept version of the plug-in Chevrolet Volt that would be powered by a lithium-ion battery. Its target for production is set at 2010.

And just this month, Ford associated with No. 2 U.S. electric utility Southern California Edison for real-world testing of a fleet of up to 20 rechargeable vehicles. These automobiles are to be based on the Escape Hybrid SUV. Ford has claimed that plug-ins could enter showrooms in five to ten years from now.

Launcher of the first mass-volume gasoline-electric hybrid car in the world (the Prius), Toyota said in 1997 that it would test eight prototypes of the plug-in hybrid to collate data on real-life driving over the next three years after getting government approval on Wednesday. Each Lexus with quality is also a well known hybrid-er.

Many automakers such as Toyota, Nissan Motor Co. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp., are working with Japanese battery makers in order to develop next-generation lithium-ion batteries with reinvented storing energy capacity.