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Green Test Drive: Prius Plug-in

 Posted by on February 24, 2011
Feb 242011

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 America’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.

Prius Plug-in, all-battery for short trips.

The Prius Plug-in Hybrid — expected to hit dealer showrooms in the first quarter of 2012 – 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 – the gas engine kicks in. Hit a steep hill – 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.

“This is not going to be the perfect car for everyone,” says Jana Hartline, Environmental Communications Manager for Toyota. “What your driving style is, what your commute is will determine if the car is suitable for your needs.”

“I live six miles from work,” says Hartline. “I’m the perfect plug-in driver.”

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 hybrid’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 “you can pull in and top off the charge in the time it takes to go shopping,” Hartline says.

The Prius Plug-in will cost more than the regular Prius, but the amount of the premium hasn’t yet been determined.

The  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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