Toyota starts taking orders for its first plug-in Prius hybrid

Article by Christian Andrei, on November 30, 2011

Toyota Motor Corp. is relying on its plug-in Prius hybrid and other new models for its sales to return to the levels that they were before the worldwide economic crisis in 2008, according to Executive Vice President Takeshi Uchiyamada. When interviewed in Tokyo, Uchiyamada said that annual sales volume declined by around 2 million units after the Lehman crisis in 2008.

However, Uchiyamada didn’t provide a specific sales target. Toyota has announced that the Prius PHV hybrid car will be introduced in Japan on Jan. 30, with a starting price of 3.2 million yen ($41,000).

Toyota has set an annual target for sales of 35,000 to 40,000 of the plug-in Prius in Japan. Toyota, which is bound to lose its position as the No. 1 global sales automaker to General Motors Co., is depending on gasoline-electric vehicles to help its goal for a sales recovery in 2012. Toyota got rid of its full-year profit forecast as the Thailand floods interrupted its output, preventing Japanese carmakers to recover from the effects of the March earthquake.

In 2007, Toyota sold 9.37 million vehicles. Meanwhile, sales dropped to 7.81 million in 2009 as the global recession prompted by the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. the previous year cut the demand for vehicles.

Takeshi Miyao, a Tokyo-based analyst at industry researcher Carnorama, said that this plug-in will go up against the electric cars too. He said that Toyota’s lineup is now complete and that the new Aqua compact hybrid presents the market with an “affordable” choice.

Toyota has long made public that its future core technology platform is the Hybrid Synergy Drive, or HSD This particular technology was designed not only be modular but also to be adaptable to various energy sources. As such, it can be used instantly in Electric Vehicles (EV), Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCV), and Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV).

Toyota’s launching of the Prius Plug-in Hybrid therefore is but one example of this technology’s application. As a PHEV, the new Prius Plug-in Hybrid has the same full hybrid system architecture with the long range capability. However it has a powerful battery that is charged externally and that adds range to all-electric driving.

Under an FCV, while the HSD is still powered by a strong electric motor, there is now the use of hydrogen fuel cell technology rather than the petrol engine. Since the fuel cells are able to create the needed energy that will recharge its battery pack, the need for external charging is avoided. Instead, all that is needed is to refuel liquid hydrogen in such a way that the HSD system refuels with petrol.

When fitted to an EV powertrain, the architecture of the HSD is made simple as there is no need for a petrol engine. Rather, a more potent electric motor is equipped with enough battery power to allow the EV to be driven for hours before there is any need for recharging. With the goal of building a society on low-carbon, Toyota knows that both EVs and PHEVs are bonded to play a significant part.

The problem is that when different vehicles will be charging their respective batteries at the same time, it is bound to increase the peak power demand. A possible solution then is to control the charging time in an optimal manner.

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