Toyota Motor Corp. unveiled a new plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHV) version of its popular Prius on Jan. 30 that enables drivers to recharge the vehicle's batteries from the comfort of their home.
The first mass-produced PHV introduced into the Japanese market, the Prius Plug-in Hybrid is more fuel-efficient than the Prius Hybrid. Toyota is pitching the car as the main "next-generation vehicle."
The Prius PHV features smaller high-performance lithium batteries, as opposed to nickel hydrogen batteries used in the Prius Hybrid, allowing the PHV model to travel 26.4 kilometers without relying on gasoline. The new capability, when running 30 kilometers, cuts 86 yen ($1.13) in electricity and gasoline bills compared to the Prius Hybrid, which uses more fuel for short-distance rides. Given that more than half of the drivers in Japan travel 25 kilometers or less a day, the vehicle effectively serves as a car that runs on electricity rather than gasoline.
Prices start from 3.2 million yen including taxes, 600,000 yen higher than the Prius Hybrid, but can be cut to 2.75 million yen if government subsidies are applied. In addition to the car’s price, recharging equipment, which Toyota recommends to Prius PHV’s buyers, costs about 160,000 yen. If lithium batteries enter into full production, leading to a reduction in prices of the batteries, Toyota said prices of the Prius PHV could be lowered.
The only potential speed bump to sales of the Prius PHV is the possible increase in electricity rates, which is being heatedly debated among lawmakers amid increased fuel costs at thermal power plants following the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The possible hike in electricity bills for households would erode the Prius PHV’s merit of low operating costs.
Toyota has set its global sales goal for the Prius PHV at more than 60,000 a year, with Japan comprising 40,000 units, two-thirds of the global sales goal, as the company views the nation as the main market for the model, the maker said.
As the first phase of a project to promote the Prius PHV, Toyota will set up new recharging facilities at Toyota-affiliated dealerships, mainly in urban areas, by the end of March. In the meantime, the automaker will also offer a free one-hour recharging service for Prius PHV drivers in an attempt to expand its customer base.
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