By on September 20, 2011

It’s here: after much talk, hype, third-party conversions, hand-wringing, and other drama, Toyota has finally announced the plug-in Prius. It starts at $32,000 plus destination… but the one you really want will cost you a cool forty G. Click the jump for availability, specs, and some personal hand-wringing.

Full details can be found at the new and very comprehensive Prius Plug-In site. Here’s the money shot, though:

The Prius Plug-in features an extended EV mode that can let you drive up to 15 miles on a single charge, up to 62 mph, as well as a quick three-hour charge time from a standard 120V AC household outlet. If you run out of electric charge, the vehicle seamlessly shifts into hybrid mode, still giving you great mpg.

That “great mpg” should decrease a little bit in the real world compared to the standard Prius, since the Plug-In carries about 176 pounds of batteries. Toyota’s made the fairly interesting decision to equip the base $32,000 Plug-In with a reasonably comprehensive list of standard equipment including:

  • 6.1 inch nav screen
  • LED tails and DRLs
  • heated front seats
  • power folding mirrors

The greenies may have wanted a plug-in penalty box, but Toyota isn’t bothering to provide one. In 2012, plug-in hybrid tech will still be a luxury feature, not a way to save money on fuel. To emphasize the point, there’s an “Advanced” model at just over $40K including destination that offers:

  • LED headlights
  • JBL sound system
  • Dynamic Cruise Control
  • auto-dim mirrors

You get the idea: this may drive like a crippled econobox from 1988, but it won’t be equipped or priced like one.

For 2012, availability will be limited to the usual suspect states in the Northeast and West Coast. Flyover-state hicks such as yours truly will be forced to drive out to a stocking dealer. Toyota explicitly suggests that we do so in their FAQ, assuming we can stop screwing our sisters and manually masturbating farm animals for profit long enough to make the trip.

I think the Advanced Package car might be a good fit for my life companion, Vodka McBigbra; she rarely covers more than 15 miles at a time and she does not value outright over-the-road pace in an automobile. At forty grand, however, one wonders if there isn’t a competitor which offers more value. Perhaps a longer battery-only range? A more iPod-like interior? A chance to get up close and personal with my friendly local Chevrolet dealer? Hmm…

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44 Comments on “Introducing… The $40,000 Plug-In Prius...”

  • avatar

    How long until people start “retrofitting” the plug in hardware into 2010 and 2011 models?

    • 0 avatar

      You can already buy kits to do this today from companies like A123 Systems. Those plug-in solutions offer far more range, and Lithium Ion battery solutions, but the conversion price remains high, and the spare tire well is sacrificed to the battery gods.

      • 0 avatar

        and the spare tire well is sacrificed to the battery gods.

        From what I read in the specs, it appears that the spare tire is sacrificed in the factory plug-in Prius, as well.

    • 0 avatar
      Secret Hi5

      To what end? The electric range would be even more abysmal than 15 freekin’ miles.

  • avatar

    It is interesting the two base price points they picked:

    $32K = Nissan Leaf territory

    $40K = Chevrolet Volt territory

    The Prii has a fanatical, loyal following that don’t care if it drives like a crippled 1988 econobox (one of the best Prii lines ever) and that the Volt and Leaf are both better “performing” cars. However Prii sales haven’t come close to their peak of a few years ago, and hybrid sales have not followed the projections made in the early 2000’s.

    But with neither Volt or Leaf sales where expected (but way too premature to call either a failure) a big question lingers – is there even a viable market beyond the most hardcore of hydrocarbon haters? In the case of the Leaf and Volt, both have proven to be outstanding halo cars. Nissan sure can’t be complaining about Versa sales and GM sure isn’t complaining about the success of the Cruze. In both cases Nissan and GM are better off if the customer drives off in a Versa or Cruze anyway. Both the Leaf and Volt are loss leader money losers that will grow into their own. Versa and Cruze sales are leafy greeny money in the bank for profit. A plug-in Prius might keep the faithful from defection – but the Prii is already a halo car in its own merit, and Toyota has bigger product mix problems. If someone cross shops a Volt, Leaf and Plug-In Prii (which doesn’t seem far fetched) and leaves in a Cruze or Versa, because the current Corolla is lets face it God awful – that is a loss for Toyota. If anything, the plug-in introduction encourages cross shopping, not locks it in.

    2012 is going to be a VERY interesting year – my conclusion – they priced the plug-in Prius too high. Ya, the $40K Volt might offer less equipment top model to base model, but factor in the tax break and load it out plus the charging station and I’m still under $40K out of my pocket and more “green” street cred.

    On the other hand what other choice did Toyota have, with Japanese assembly and the US dollar in the toilet, they can’t give them away for free.

    I have not driven any of the three, but have sat in numerous Prii, the Volt and Leaf – they all have their merits and issues.

  • avatar

    Am I right in reading that upgraded headlights, upgraded sound system, dynamic cruise control, and auto-dimming mirrors cost $8,000! That is more out of control than Porsche upgrades.

  • avatar

    A Prius Three with nav is $27,000. A Prius plug-in*, after federal tax credit, is $29,500. For my driving cycle, it would be a 10 year payback versus a Prius Three. More sensible than the 20+ year payback on a Volt, I suppose. Strangely enough, my cost calculations show me spending $200/year less on gas and electric if I were to buy a Prius plug-in versus a Volt. 12 mile roundtrip commute with quite a lot of weekend travel will do that, though. Leaf doesn’t even come on my radar due to the fact that a majority of our driving is long distance stuff, so my biggest bang for buck is reducing the cost of my distance driving versus my commute.

    I can’t see them moving a lot of the premium plug-in models. $37,500 is a lot of money regardless of lane departure, radar cruise, LED headlights, etc, etc.

    * Based on equipment, the plug-in base seems very comparably equipped with a Three with nav.

    • 0 avatar

      One of those “fanatical loyal [prius followers who] don’t care if it drives like a crippled 1988 econobox” here.

      If you live really close to work, it really doesn’t matter what you drive.

      If you do the calculation for gallons of fuel consumed per year, moving from 20 miles to 2 miles from work cuts your commute-related fuel consumption by 90%. On the other hand, if you triple your gas mileage by changing from an Expedition to a Prius (and stay where you are), then you only cut your fuel consumption by 67%. Clearly, driving an Expedition 2 miles to work is the better environmental choice, especially if you already happen to own the truck (the environmental costs of manufacturing it are sunk-costs). Of course, with a 2-mile commute and an Expedition, biking or walking to work would save you a ton of money and a lot of wear and tear the Expedition — so you could keep the Expedition around for the things it does well for much longer than you would if you drove it every day.

      The Prius makes a lot of sense if you want to cut your fuel usage and can’t move closer to work, or if you’ve already taken that 90% of fuel savings and want to double or triple it again (and are willing to shell out some cash to do it). The Prius drivers who don’t do this calculation (most of them) are just regular people who want to go about their regular mainstream lives with a little less waste — I respect that choice, but it doesn’t really match the stereotype that has been foisted upon Prius drivers. It’s a very competent, useful, reliable and efficient vehicle (even if it’s a tad boring to drive), so someone who buys one isn’t going to get any financial surprises — so I’d be hard-pressed not to have it on a list of “good cars” that I recommend to someone who needs a sensible little AtoB car. Even so, where you live matters a lot more than what you drive.

      • 0 avatar


        Well said.

      • 0 avatar

        I completely agree with your post. I was just commenting on payback considering I love spreadsheets and doing the calculations. (Nerd engineer here) I currently DD a 23mpg SUV. I really love having it for the times I need it. Like you said, I’d rather put mileage on it for when I need it rather than the times when a smaller vehicle will do.

        I don’t know that plug-in works for me, but when we buy a new car for a growing family (MINIs just aren’t kid friendly), paying an extra couple thousand for something that gets subcompact mileage and midsize comfort will be worth the hybrid premium.

  • avatar

    this may drive like a crippled econobox from 1988

    You don’t remember 1988 very well, do you?

    Base Engine 1988 Honda Civic:

    Standard Engine 1.5L 70 hp I4
    Horsepower 70 @ 4500 RPM
    Torque (lb-ft) 82 @ 4200 RPM

    0-60 13.6 seconds

    • 0 avatar

      The ’88 Civic also weighed much less than a Prius. And came equipped with a proper transmission. Conspiring to make it at least as enjoyable a ride.

      • 0 avatar

        The ’88 Civic also weighed much less than a Prius.

        Yeh, and it was a death trap. Also, 0-60 in 13.6 wheeeeeeee…

      • 0 avatar

        The ’88 Civic made that 13.6 seconds to 60 feel fun. It was fun to drive, and lets not forget, it got damn near combined Prii MPG.

        Death trap? Canard. Everything built in ’88 is a death trap compared to 2011 standards, well except maybe the venerable ‘ye old Volvo and some of the larger Mercs.

        The Prius makes 0 to 60 in 10 to 11 seconds feel so darn – awful. It is the anti-car for people who hate to drive, and it serves that purpose well. Can Toyota sell $40,000 anti-cars to people who hate to drive? That’s the real question.

      • 0 avatar

        I learned to drive stick on a ’91 civic dx, loved it to death. Low power, but light enough that it still felt fast.

        I recall getting 30-35 mpg, not 50+ mpg.

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Jaeger

      You don’t remember 1988 very well, do you?

      I remember the vast number of Chevettes still prowling the roads in 1988. Though come to think of it, I’d take a Chevette over one these Prii.

  • avatar

    Man, if I was a self righteous greenie, I’d say anyone traveling less than 15 miles, ought to be doing so on a bicycle.

    I guess the added electromotivational ability does pay big dividends for those spending a large percentage of time in stop and go traffic. Say, after having freeway commuted from somewhere beyond reasonable bicycling distance to get there.

    • 0 avatar

      Realistically, for most people (those using a bicycle for transportation only and not specifically going for the enjoyment and/or exercise element) a bicycle’s range tops out at about 5 miles one way. Which means that you’re talking a ten-mile round trip with a break in between.

      Like I said, for most people. Yes I know you can do a 20 mile commute – I was cycling a 45 mile round trip every Saturday until Patti came home from the nursing home. And blowing off 6-7 hours of my day in the process. Bit of a trade-off when Saturday is the day schedule for chores around the house.

    • 0 avatar

      I would love to commute on my bike to work. Unfortunately, the best way to get there would be on the expressway. No bikes there. Other than that it would take forever, as it would in a car. We have made such an amazing infrastructure for cars, nothing for bikers.

      • 0 avatar

        “We have made such an amazing infrastructure for cars, nothing for bikers.”

        There are some decent bicycle advocacy organizations out there, and the ones in my town are both sensible and surprisingly effective — less “Critical Mass” BS lately, and a lot more speaking at city council meetings. You might look up the League of American Bicyclists.

        This is an aside — but, for some reason, people who dislike the cyclists in my town seem to assume that people who commute by bicycle never drive. Pretty much everyone in the bicycle advocacy group here in my town drives regularly and owns a car or two. (It is important for the cyclists on the road who are experienced drivers to act like it, though.) My household fleet includes a Ford Ranger, a Prius, several bicycles, and many pairs of shoes. I pick the right tool for the job, depending on where I’m going and what I’m doing. I personally need great infrastructure for conventional vehicles, bikes, AND walking/transit.

  • avatar

    manually masturbating farm animals for profit

    I once had a job in a lab that involved taking sperm samples from rabbits. In the same lab I had to make homogenate of human testicles. They look kinda like canned plums.

  • avatar

    If oil prices don’t have another attention-grabbing, economy-rattling spike soon, (for now, $4 in the summer seems to be the new normal), then its starting to look like Volt and Leaf (and the p-i Prius?) will be in for some tough years on the market. The ‘rational’ rationale for those vehicles is eventually in the numbers if fuel prices rise enough, but for now relatively few number crunchers are biting, because on their own the economic numbers aren’t so compelling. So who are the future buyers? Once committed greenies have their cars, an obvious next wave of buyers might well be people who get shaken up by a scary trend and want to do something to adjust. Will $5 gas be a big psychological line for people? Will the second recessionary dip, if it happens?

    • 0 avatar

      You have a point, but I’d like to point out that the Prius is a solid seller.

      The reason is that it’s a sensible and practical little car intended for adults, in addition to being “green” (as green as a gasoline powered car can be). This is starting to change, but a lot of the other sensible little cars on the market make you look like a poor college student or like some sort of wannabe hipster. The Prius just makes you look a little greenwashed. It’s one of the few $25k cars that you can park in an parking lot full of BMWs that won’t look out-of-place. Pragmatic upper-middle-class cheapskates of the world rejoice.

      The plug-in option really will be for people who are willing to pay more to use less fuel. It’s got me thinking about upgrading our 2004 Prius, because I’ll pay more to use less fuel. I’m convinced that the price we pay at the pump doesn’t cover the environmental and military costs of the gasoline that I put into my tank, and I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is on that point. Also, I’m a geek and I’m sometimes willing to pay the early adopter premium for technologies I like, and a partially electric car certainly fits that description. So, if our 2004 with 130k miles on it starts to show any signs of age (it really hasn’t, so far), then I’d spring for the plugin option if I could. But, with a $40k Luxury-plugin Prius on the lot, the high-priced Volt is looking mighty competitive.

  • avatar

    We need a true delta cost comparison now for the Leaf, plug in Prius, plug in Prius Advanced and the Volt.

    Funny, I thought I heard a lot of people say that the plug in was going to be 5k more, then one article said 8k, now, it appears to be almost 10k more (without look at the other options available on each vehicle). So, when does this make sense from a cost perspective? Seems like a lot for 15 miles electric daily. Given the cost difference and small fuel savings, I am not sure why someone would want the plug in over the regular Prius.

    • 0 avatar

      Because it’s cool, and it plugs in. What did P.T. Barnum say…

    • 0 avatar

      ” I am not sure why someone would want the plug in over the regular Prius.”

      That’s what people said about the Prius over a Yaris… Reality is more complex, but this is basically the same tradeoff once removed.

      It is cool and it plugs in, though. As a geek with a fixation on energy-saving technologies, I’m willing to pay more for that, knowing that I’ll never get my money back.

      I mean, seriously, why do you guys pay for cars that can go faster than the speed limit? That doesn’t make financial sense, either, but you enjoy it (and I do too). If financial sense were the only element of car-purchasing, we’d have about four kinds of cars (compact hatchback, midsize wagon, minivan, delivery van) and nothing would have enough power to break the speed limit. That sounds like the kind of suckage they had behind the Iron Curtain — I don’t want that, and I’m pretty sure you don’t want it either.

      • 0 avatar

        Funny how the argument from Yaris to only have hatches, wagons, minivans and delivery vans that couldn’t break the speed limit. Your logic is flawed.

        The Yaris is MUCH MUCH smaller than a Prius. The comparison doesn’t apply to a Prius vs a plugin Prius with a 10k extra price tag. People talk about the Volt being a 40k economy car… but look at what you are getting with the plugin Prius. Sure, some people are going to buy the plugin Prius, just like some people are going to buy a Volt or Leaf. I just think that the plugin Prius makes very little since to something directly on the slot that is the same size, shape, with slightly less fuel economy, but cost 10k less and is on the same lot.

        You can take your gross over exaggeration with the Iron Curtain and go buy one if these if you want. But at know point does this make sense to buy. Even green loving people are going to have a hard time buying this car based on the price of the regular Prius.

      • 0 avatar

        I think Luke42’s point is that people buy cars for all kinds of reasons, and that some people will overlook the cost effectiveness of buying a plug-in over a Yaris just because they would like to own a plug-in (for whatever reasons). It’s comparable to those people who might overlook the cost effectiveness of high horsepower or torque over a cheaper car with less of each (that will still serve their practical purposes just fine) simply because they like vehicles with high horsepower or torque.

        Just because you or I wouldn’t buy a Prius plug-in over a Yaris doesn’t mean that everyone else is going to evaluate things in the exact same way. People have different priorities and place different values and weights on things. We shouldn’t assume that everyone is like ourselves in these respects.

      • 0 avatar

        His point was in comparing it to a Prius to a Yaris. My point was comparing to a plug in Prius to a Prius, which is a much tougher comparison in taking the plug in version. I know people will buy whatever they want. I just think it is going to be quite hard to sell a 10k more expensive Prius to someone especially with such small differences in fuel economy and when a regular Prius is going to be on the same car lot.

  • avatar

    ya its gonna be an interesting year.
    it seems that electric cars and plug ins will play to the same audience that frequents organic food groceries like whole foods – the eye watering prices are a badge of honor, not gasping horror.

    theres alot of 40g cars around. lexii, infinity, bmw, audi, etc. – and atleast one or two models of even the low cost manufacturers. I’m glad that toyota is getting the message that these cars are not for the masses, but the – how shall i put it – those of a certain elevated personna. Comfort and fun, but comfort. And little guilt. Seems like a winner to me.

    I was thinkin the other day how much i like the gt mustang and how much i wished it had a hybrid drive, or at least a smokin 4 cyl turbo motor. So u get the best of both worlds.

    • 0 avatar

      It will be an interesting year. Electric cars are niche vehicles, and will be for the foreseeable future, but my local EV club doesn’t resemble your characterization of the electric-car demographic at all.

      We’re mostly engineers who’ve decided that efficiency and collateral damage are also things that should be part of the engineering process. Most of them are also guys who take the engineering methodology home with them. Our wives are saints, our garages useful messes, and we have all kinds of stuff to talk about. The guys who do conversions tend to have a lot of grease under their fingernails. And everyone who can afford it is chomping at the bit to buy an EV, or at least to open the hood of a friend who buys one.

      Yes, we’re probably more liberal on average than typical engineers — but you’re putting a box around EV folks that really doesn’t match my experience. Dude, you seriously need to get and more people — and stop watching so much Fox News.

  • avatar

    Notice how they quote the range as 15 miles. Except that if you press too hard on the go pedal (or want to go high speed on the x-way) the engine has to start. If I’m not mistaken the Volt will hit it’s max accel/speed on EV only.

  • avatar

    All of this leads me to wonder: Did the Volt set the high ground for plug in pricing, and is the PIPrius is reaching (up to it)?

    It’s been debated for a long time whether or not the Prius made or makes money for Toyota. Some say that only this latest generation of Prius is making ToMoCo any dough. We know (by GMs admission) that the Volt is a loss leader for lack of a better term.

    It seems to me that the PIPrius is closer to the Volt in more ways than one.

  • avatar

    You all read the whole article and realize that the base model starts at $32000, not $40k, right?

    I sure is a lot easier to blab on about the impractical expense of this car when people constantly refer to its loaded price.

    I love Jack like a funny uncle, but he set you all up for this with the headline.

  • avatar

    Quick ,get your Volt before they’re gone!

    Only 2050 of them left for the reasonable starting price of just $38,995!

    Buy one now and Government Motors will throw in one of their very own “Forever Lazy”s as a token of their appreciation.

    Act now! Dealers can’t get them fast enough, they are SOLD before they even arrive!!! (not counting the ones listed of course)

  • avatar

    see the article from green car reports: In the SF bay area, people will be happy to pay the extra $ to be able to drive solo for free in the carpool lane.

    By John Voelcker

    Reports say Toyota expects to sell as many as 15,000 of its 2012 Prius Plug-In Hybrid model per year in the United States.
    But electric-car fans and advocates have vigorously debated whether the plug-in Prius is a “real” electric car, whether its 9 to 14 miles of electric range is adequate, and how much of an increase in gas mileage it delivers over the standard 50-mpg 2012 Prius hybrid.

    None of that matters.

    Toyota is likely to sell every single 2012 Prius Plug-In Hybrid it can deliver to California dealers for one simple reason.

    It’s about the stickers, stupid.

    Put more politely, the 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid is expected to qualify for the highly prized Clean Air Vehicle sticker in California that gives its driver access to High-Occupancy Vehicle lanes on certain crowded freeways in and around San Francisco and Los Angeles even when traveling solo.

    That privilege—formerly extended to 75,000 owners of three specific hybrids, but now ended for those cars—turned out to add as much as $1,500 in value to the value of those hybrids in the used-car market against the same cars without the stickers.

    So it’s logical to expect that the 2012 Prius Plug-In, with a base price starting at $32,760 including destination, will enjoy the same popularity.

    Traffic congestion remains grim in the state’s two largest urban agglomerations, and time is money.

    Right now, the only new cars that qualify for the white Clean Air sticker are the electric Nissan Leaf (with a range limited to 100 miles or so), the Tesla Roadster (starting at $109,000), and the tiny numbers of natural-gas Honda Civics and hydrogen fuel-cell Honda FCX Clarity models.

    So for drivers who are leery of the all-electric Leaf’s limited range, but want solo driving in less-crowded HOV lanes, the Prius Plug-In is the easy, obvious, best-known solution.

    And we predict there will be waiting lists for the car for many months as word gets out.

    The one fly in the ointment? That would be plans by local transportation authorities to convert HOV lanes to tolled “Lexus lanes,” in which drivers pay a variable fee for solo access to those same lanes.

    Under those plans, electric-car drivers would pay the same tolls as any other solo driver—and they’re not happy about it.

    But for every other HOV lane in the crowded parts of California, expect to see lots and lots of Priuses starting next spring. They’ll look just like regular 2012 Priuses, except for a second round door (for the charge port) on the right rear fender—and that invaluable green white carpool lane sticker on the bumper.

    The 2012 Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric car does not qualify for California Advanced Technology-Partial Zero-Emission Vehicle (AT-PZEV) status, which would allow its drivers to get the same sticker—even though it runs electrically for up to 40 miles before the range-extending engine kicks in, unlike the Prius.

    Although Chevy has said in the past it plans to qualify the Volt for the sticker, GM representatives refused to say when that would happen—or whether they would charge extra for AT-PZEV status in Volts destined for California and the other states that have adopted its emissions standards.

    So who cares about plugging in? It’s all about the sticker—even if Prius Plug-In drivers never once plug in their car.

    Does that make sense to reduce emissions, which is the stated goal of the HOV access scheme? Oh, that’s another story altogether.

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