By Clint Williams
Green Right Now
The Toyota Prius has evolved into t-h-e hybrid automobile since it first hit the highways in North America in 2000, setting the standard as Americaâ€™s biggest selling green car with 955,000 sold since introduction. Sometime early next year, Toyota will offer the Prius in a deeper shade of green.
The Prius Plug-in Hybrid — expected to hit dealer showrooms in the first quarter of 2012 â€“ will provide fossil fuel-free driving for short trips before the gasoline-electric hybrid system kicks in. Prius Plug-in can be driven up to 13 miles, at speeds of up to 60 mph, on battery power alone. But with the caveat: depending on driving conditions.
I must admit I found it tough to make an all-electric trip during a two-week test of a Prius Plug-in Hybrid prototype. Stomp on the accelerator â€“ the gas engine kicks in. Hit a steep hill â€“ the gas engine kicks in. Still, I made a couple of trips to the nearest Starbucks without burning a drop of gasoline.
Once you go beyond 13 miles or so, the Prius Plug-in Hybrid operates just like its older brother. Which is to stay pretty darn efficiently. A third-generation 2010 Prius test driven last year got a bit over 50 mph in a week of driving.
â€śThis is not going to be the perfect car for everyone,â€ť says Jana Hartline, Environmental Communications Manager for Toyota. â€śWhat your driving style is, what your commute is will determine if the car is suitable for your needs.â€ť
â€śI live six miles from work,â€ť says Hartline. â€śIâ€™m the perfect plug-in driver.â€ť
Hartline said that during a week test drive she drove Monday through Friday without burning a drop of gasoline. Then she had no worries about battery range during a weekend trip to the beach town of Santa Monica.
The average vehicle trip is slightly less than 10 miles, according to a survey by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The relatively quick recharging capability of the Prius Plug-in means a lot of those return trips could be done solely on battery power.
Recharging the hybridâ€™s compact Lithium-ion battery takes about three hours on 110 volts and about 90 minutes hours on 220 volts. The growing number of public charging stations at shopping centers and such means â€śyou can pull in and top off the charge in the time it takes to go shopping,â€ť Hartline says.
The Prius Plug-in will cost more than the regular Prius, but the amount of the premium hasnâ€™t yet been determined.
TheÂ Prius Plug-in Hybrid will first be sold in the 14 states that account for more than half of Prius sales: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Virginia and New Hampshire. It will go on sale in other states a year later.
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