Toyota announced they will be leasing out 500 plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV) to various agencies across the globe at the end of 2009. 150 vehicles will be sent to Europe (100 in France), 150 in the US and 200 in Japan. The vehicles will be leased to fleet customers and governments in an effort to promote plug-in and electric technology. Toyota will gain insight by checking in with the drivers.
According to the release:
A plug-in hybrid vehicle operates as an electric vehicle when used for short distances and can operate as a conventional hybrid vehicle when used for medium to long-distance trips. This means it can be used regardless of remaining battery power or availability of battery-charging infrastructure in place. Furthermore, plug-in hybrid vehicles are expected to achieve higher fuel efficiency than conventional hybrid vehicles, limit consumption of fossil fuels, reduce CO2 emissions and atmospheric pollution, and, by charging with off-peak electricity, promise a more economical vehicle powering solution.
...a plug-in hybrid vehicle—based on the third-generation "Prius"— equipped with a lithium-ion battery that can be charged via external power sources such as household electricity. This will be the first time a lithium-ion battery is to be employed in a Toyota vehicle for propulsion.
Toyota has not been exactly excited about plug-in vehicles so far, believing they have a limited market. And reported fuel efficiency figures from test fleets have been disappointing so far. But it would certainly go against the grain for Toyota not to continue their research into hybrid technology.
The exciting part in all of this is the use of lithium-ion battery packs, which can store more energy than the nickel metal hydride battery packs you find now in the Prius. Also, it will be interesting to note which tack Toyota continues to take with the plug-in Prius. Will they simply expand on their hybrid technology and allow for a mixture of electric and gas driving, allowing for more electric propulsion. Or will they opt for the GM method (Extended Range Electric Vehicle or E-REV) of all electric driving for as long as you can, before falling back to a more traditional gas or hybrid propulsion.
I would guess that Toyota will expand on the hybrid method of driving, since they believe it is more efficient then the E-REV method.
Also, how big will the battery pack be? The tax credit set up the federal government for plug-in hybrids depends on how big the battery pack is.