Tokyo: Toyota Motor said on Wednesday it has developed a plug-in hybrid vehicle for public-road tests in Japan and plans tests for the US and Europe. Plug-in hybrids, whose batteries can be recharged via a standard wall outlet, are also being developed by other major auto makers such as US-based General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co.
Like most hybrids now on sale, which are powered by electric motors and petrol engines, the new model—called Toyota Plug-in HV—also gets recharged by converting energy from braking and when the wheels spin.
But the advantage of the plug-in variety is that it runs longer on electricity than regular hybrids. Electric cars use no gas and emit no pollution.
Toyota Motor Corp. is the first manufacturer to receive government approval to conduct tests for a plug-in hybrid on Japan’s roads, it said. It will collect information—about emissions and fuel efficiency—for the government by testing eight plug-in vehicles.
Masatami Takimoto, the Toyota executive in charge of technology, declined to say when Toyota will bring a plug-in hybrid to market. Innovation in battery technology is needed, he said. “We still need some time,” he added.
The plug-in HV displayed on Wednesday runs on the same nickel metal hydride battery as the Prius and has a cruising range of 13km on electricity. Takimoto said tests will help in deciding the range consumers want. The maximum speed of the plug-in HV is 100 kmph as an electric vehicle. The batteries require about 1.5 hours to recharge at 200 volts and three or four hours at 100 volts, and the company recommends recharging overnight when power costs are cheaper in Japan.
The more common hybrids, such as Toyota’s Prius, have a cruising range of just 3km as an electric vehicle, according to the auto maker. Mass production of plug-ins is so far being held back by costs and battery technology that limit the vehicles’ range.
Masanao Ozaki, an expert who writes about energy and the environment, said it is still unclear which auto maker may be ahead in plug-in hybrids, and the range for Toyota’s plug-in was too short to be a practical option.
“The regular hybrid may even be better for the environment,” Ozaki said in a telephone interview. “The advantage of a plug-in hybrid is that it uses electricity from homes through a regular outlet. But utilities companies predominantly use fossil fuels to produce electricity for homes.”
Toyota, which introduced the Prius in 1997, has the advantage of 10 years of experience in selling hybrid technology. It now dominates the hybrid market, with several other hybrid models, including the hybrid Camry and hybrid Lexus models. It has set a target of selling a million hybrids a year sometime after 2010. Toyota said in June its cumulative sales of hybrids passed one million vehicles.
Details of its plug-in hybrid tests for the US and Europe are still undecided, Takimoto said.
General Motors is developing the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, and says it hopes its plug-ins can reach showrooms by 2010.