Toyota denies report that plug-in capability will be a standard feature on all Prius models

Article by Christian Andrei, on May 10, 2011

Toyota denies a report by the Nikkei business journal that plug-in capability will be a standard feature on all Prius hybrids beginning in 2014. Jana Hartline, Toyota’s environmental communications manager, told editor Brad Berman that there is no formal plan to make all Priuses as plug-ins by 2014.

Toyota is known for not blabbing too much about its product plans so when Hartline was asked if this move is even possible, she said that it is definitely not.

She explained that Toyota has focused its marketing on giving customers a range of Prius models in different sizes, costs and options so this move won’t make any sense.

Toyota has not been very keen about offering plug-in vehicles and has prioritized putting non-plug hybrids into the mainstream. It has taken only modest steps to present its first electric and plug-in electric vehicles. If Toyota does decide to offer only Prius plug-ins, it will be a significant reversal in strategy.

Set to launch in 2012, the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid has a 14-mile range of all-electric driving. The Prius-with-plug is different from the Chevy Volt as it can use the gasoline engine anytime that added power is required. Toyota has based this approach on its belief that plug-in hybrids, which have relatively smaller batteries, will give enhanced value to customers.

The report from Nikkei also asserted that Toyota will throw out its nickle-metal hydride technology and will instead use lithium-ion battery backs on all of its hybrids in the same year. It also said that the base plug-in Prius will have a price similar to the current non-plug-in model – which is about 2.05 million yen ($25,400).

Toyota revealed that it will now be starting worldwide sales of its Prius Plug-in Hybrid. This comes after the wide-ranging PHEV leasing project that the company has conducted around the world, done in two stages. The project itself was started way back in July 2007, a decade after the first generation of the Prius was launched. During the first stage of the project, the company tested a total of 20 vehicles, four of which were done in Europe.

The goal of this stage was to conduct research and development when it comes to real life road tests in countries like the U.K. and France, among others. The specific goal was to look into how users would be able to relate to this new technology.

At the same time, research was also conducted in order to study the possibility of developing recharging infrastructure, whether it’s by the company, private, or public. This part is important as it will determine whether the PHEV project is feasible or not. As such, the first phase of the project also celebrated the partnership of the company with France-based EDF, an energy company with presence in a number of markets in Europe.

By December 2009, the second stage of the project started and it was focused on a limit lease project around the world. A total of 600 prototype vehicles were used, with 200 units being leased to selected customers and partners in 18 countries across Europe. For the Europe leg of the second phase, the project began towards the end of April 2010 at Strasbourg, France. A hundred units of the prototype were put on a three-year lease to different private companies, organizations, and even a car sharing company. Units were leased as well to energy providers, various government bodies, and local authorities.

The project started in Strasbourg since it is well-known as that other capital of the European Union. The city is also known to have in place, for quite some time, an advanced mobility strategy. This meant it was indeed the best place to start the large-scale demonstration of the features of the Prius Plug-in Hybrid, especially its urban-friendly practicalities. Once the project was started, EDF, at the same time, made complimentary recharging infrastructure.

Charging points were installed not just at the facilities of the project partners, but also on public roads, and public parking lots. EDF also helped reinforce the plugs at the home of the users. Overall, around 20 units were used in the U.K. with about 15 to 20 for Germany. The project was not limited to Europe as the company made sure to implement this on a worldwide scale, therefore making countries like, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and the U.S., part of it.

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