Toyota Stays Firm On Conservative Plug-In Plans

Cammy Corrigan
by Cammy Corrigan

Now that Nissan have their Leaf EV in the works, Mitsubishi have the iMiEV in development and GM are rushing out the Chevrolet Volt, Toyota seem to be feeling a little unarmed in the next stage of green motoring. The NY Times updates us on Toyota’s plans to sell plug in hybrids in about 2 years quoting Takeshi Uchiyamada, Toyota Executive Vice President, as saying “Toyota believes that plug-in hybrids are a realistic solution among vehicles using electricity.” Funny, because not long ago Toyota had a different stance on electrification. In any case, Toyota remains highly conservative in its approach to electric vehicles. In preparation for a mass market launch, Toyota are leasing and renting 600 plug-in hybrids: 230 for Japan, 200 for Europe, 20 for other countries and 150 for the United States. This will provide Toyota with much needed feedback on how to improve the vehicles, a process GM plans on doing with its Volt contemporaneously with its California consumer rollout.

The new plug in hybrids boast a 57km/l (134 non-EPA mpg), can travel up to 23 kilometres (15 miles) on a fully charged lithium ion battery and with the aid of the combustion engine, can travel up 1400 kilometres (870 miles). Mr Uchiyamada said that the price for the plug in hasn’t been set yet, but hoped to limit the extra charge (no pun intended) for the plug in model to less than 1 million yen ($11228). $11K on top of $23K for a Prius? That gets you a number that’s dangerously close to the Volt’s rumored MSRP of $35k-40k, without the Volt’s 40-mile EV range. Besides, there are already plug-in conversions for the Prius, like A12’s Hymotion, which offer some plug-in performance for about $10k; Toyota will have to handily beat their performance to make a solid case for the OEM plug-in. On the other hand, maybe the fact that Toyota’s testing its plug ins before its mass-market rollout counts for something. Besides, unlike most first-generation mass-market EVs, Toyota’s Prius hybrid is solidly profitable. Rather than race to get ahead, Toyota are building slowly from there.

Cammy Corrigan
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  • KixStart KixStart on Dec 14, 2009

    Consider that, win or lose, this isn't a big deal for Toyota. The "PHEV Prius Project" consist of little more than adding a battery, a plug and some updated control software to the current vehicle so the development costs are close to negligible. The current Prius is, basically, PHEV-ready. If the vehicle sells well, that's great and they build more of them, on the same line as the regular Prius. If it doesn't sell so well, they build fewer of them, on the same line as the regular Prius. This is a marked contrast to the Volt, where the development costs are high. The potential advantage to offering the Prius PHEV is that it could steal the bottom of the Volt's market away, if Toyota can offer the vehicle as a better value proposition. It seems to me that people most interested in electric vehicles are very likely to have adjusted their lifestyle to short commutes. If so, a 14-mile vehicle is as good as a 40, so why spend more money for a larger, more expensive battery that one does not need? In my own case, I wouldn't mind going electric and I'd consider a PHEV, at a reasonable price. A range of 14 miles would do 220% of my daily commute or 120% of my wife's. But climate change, oil dependence, similar issues caused me to minimize my fuel dependence. If the rest of the Volt's target market is like this, the Prius could easily eat away at it, offering shorter range for less money. Yes, I know, the figure $11K upcharge is mentioned but Toyota has a history of trying very hard to hit a value mark. Further, if it does sticker at $33K, it still has an edge on the Volt in the US. The battery incentive from the Feds is stepped and the Prius could qualify for $4K worth of incentives. If so, we could be looking at a $29K Prius against a $33K Volt. Factor in the solid vehicle history that goes with the Prius and consumers could strongly favor it.

    • PeteMoran PeteMoran on Dec 14, 2009

      @ KixStart I think your analysis is spot-on again. Toyota could use the Prius PHEV to "spoil" the Volt, and probably make money with it at the GM price-point too. I don't believe Toyota actually "think" like that however - I don't believe Toyota are evil. Toyota's commissioned trip research resulted in the current HSD trade-offs (battery sizing, charge limit, weights, capacities), so it has me wondering where the 15mile figure has come from. Research shows the USA-only 40mile figure for about 70% of trips as a point to aim for, so I understand that from GM. Where does 15mile come from Toyota?

  • Ian Williams Ian Williams on Dec 14, 2009

    I'll take a plug in from Toyota over the folks who gave us the Oldsmobile Diesel and displacement on demand. GM was an atrocous track record on powertrains that don't involve their sweet sweet small block.

  • Aja8888 Folks, this car is big enough to live in. Dual deal: house and car for $7 large.
  • Astigmatism I don't think tax credits will put me in this league, but if I could swing it, I would 1000% go for a restomod EV Grand Wagoneer:
  • FreedMike I like the looks of the Z, but I'd take the Mustang. V8s are a disappearing breed.
  • Picard234 I can just smell the clove cigarettes and the "oregano" from the interior. Absolutely no dice at any price.
  • Dartdude The Europeans don't understand the American market. That is why they are small players here. Chrysler Group is going to die pretty soon under their control. Europeans have a sense of superiority over Americans that is why the Mercedes merger didn't work out and almost killed Chrysler. Bringing European managers aren't going to help. Just like F1 they want our money. We need Elon Musk to buy out Chrysler, Dodge and Ram from Stellantis.