By Rita Cook
For the eco-friendly, savvy DFW driver just any car won’t do and the greener the better, especially in the coming years.  Scheduled to arrive at local dealerships in 2012, Toyota has plans to raise the green bar with the Prius PHV, a plug-in hybrid that the brand’s been testing with 160 prototypes of around the country including the Dallas / Fort Worth market. Interested in “real world vehicle-use feedback,” Toyota offered me the chance recently to drive one of the prototypes being tested in Dallas.  There were a few things I noticed that you might be asking too.  For example, the big question what is the difference between the batteries in the new PHV versus the current hybrid model? 

Toyota is of the belief that the smaller the battery in a PHV the better, both from the carbon footprint point of view, as well as a cost point of view.  The Prius plug-in hybrid (PHV) is powered by lithium-ion batteries and draws approximately one kilowatt per hour taking about three hours to charge (I plugged the car into an outdoor outlet at home).  The conventional 2010 Prius battery type is a nickel-metal hydride battery pack.  Jana Hartline, Environmental Communications Manager, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc. says batteries have to last like in the current model and are built to last for the life of the vehicle.  The new Prius Hybrid can’t be an inconvenient green option.  “Customers expect the same, if not better, performance than their regular vehicle with no trade-offs,” she says.  “If customers see plugging-in as an inconvenience, or perceive the vehicle to be lesser in any way than their current vehicle, PHVs won’t be successful.” 

The plug-in part of the PHV is pretty easy and it can go approximately 13 miles on pure electric power (that means no gasoline) at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour.  That differs from the conventional 2010 Prius, which operates in pure electric mode only at low speeds up to roughly 20 miles per hour.  In the PHV, after you deplete the "extra" electric power, the vehicle operates as a 'conventional' Prius and achieves an estimated 50 mile per gallon combined.
While of course there are many green pluses to the incoming Prius PHV, one of the biggest problems facing Dallas drivers will be the number of charging stations that are available come 2012.   “The infrastructure is a key issue for adoption of electric vehicles,” confirms Hartline.  “A key goal of the PHV demonstration program is to promote the adoption of public charging infrastructure around the nation.”  (for more see GSDFW article “Dallas Key Market for Electric Vehicles”  by Anna Clark )

While the Prius PHV features the same body type as the 2010 Prius, differences include a battery charger lid that covers the battery charger inlet added at the driver’s side front fender. The mirrors, door handles and the back door have also been accented with a high-intensity silver coating.  No solar roof on the PHV, but not to worry since it will have a remote-activated AC system. When you plug the vehicle in all you have to do is push the AC button on the key to start the AC system and cool or heat depending on the season.

While owning an electric car might not save the environment, it does take a step in the right direction.  PHV will provide another option for customers attempting to reduce their fuel consumption and emissions.  “We believe there is no single solution, or one size fits all for future mobility,” concludes Hartline. 

Cost: When it hits the market in 2012 the cost has not yet been determined, but according to Hartline she says it will cost more than the 2010 conventional Prius. 
Miles Per Gallon: The federal government has not yet set a standard for determining MPG on plug-in hybrid vehicles. The Prius PHV has a range of approximately 13 miles of electric and according to Hartline that 13 miles can vary greatly depending on vehicle speed and driving conditions. Extreme hot (110 degrees F) or cold (20 degrees F) ambient temperatures can also negatively affect lithium-ion battery performance. If a person regularly takes trips of less than 13 miles and charges often, there is a possibility that the vehicle will have no MPG because it will use no gas.

 Rita Cook is the author of this article

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