The 100 MPG Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid

Hybrid cars will get even better gas mileage when they become plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles.

| Oct. 2, 2008

  • Plug-in Prius Hybrid
    Prototype of the plug-in hybrid Toyota Prius.
  • Plug-in Prius
    The idea of recharging a car at home may sound strange, but 100 mpg will probably help you get over that real quick. Plug-in hybrids offer the best of gasoline-electric hybrids and all-electric cars: the ability to drive in pure electric mode (thus zero gas used), a gas engine to fall back on when needed and the ability to recharge at home.

  • Plug-in Prius Hybrid
  • Plug-in Prius

On the outside, the Toyota Prius I’m driving looks about the same as any Prius you’d see on any given day. Aside from the auto-show graphics on the body, the only hint of something unusual on this Prius is the second fuel door on the rear flank of the passenger side. Pop it open and instead of a gas cap, there’s an electrical outlet. This particular Prius is more than just a gasoline-electric hybrid — it’s a plug-in hybrid. The one I’m driving is one of several that Toyota is using to test this promising and advanced technology.

A plug-in hybrid runs solely on electric power for longer periods than a typical hybrid, thanks to extra batteries. And like a typical hybrid, a plug-in taps the gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain when driving distances exceed the electric-only range. Toyota is currently testing a small fleet of plug-in Prius that have an all-electric range of seven miles. Seven miles may not sound like much, but it’s enough for short commutes or errands. While driving on that electric power, a plug-in Prius can achieve the fuel economy equivalent of 100 miles per gallon or more. A conventional Prius gets about 48 mpg in city driving.

More Batteries and a Power Cord

Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system allows its hybrid vehicles to operate on electric power (via batteries and an electric motor), gasoline power (via a small internal combustion engine) or a combination of the two when both are needed. The plug-in version has a second nickel-metal hydride battery pack, which powers the extended electric range unique to the plug-in. The additional batteries fit where the spare tire normally goes. Additionally, Toyota revised the hybrid system’s computer controls to allow the plug-in to operate on all-electric power longer and at higher speeds than in a conventional Prius.

When it’s time to recharge, a simple power cord is connected to the Prius and plugged into a standard 110-volt outlet (the kind we all have in our homes and garages). A full charge will require three to four hours, or just 1 to 1.5 hours if a 220-volt outlet is available.

Power outlets at offices and in parking garages would allow plug-in hybrid drivers to top-off their vehicles while they are at work, thereby doubling the daily all-electric range of the vehicles. If you live close enough to where you work, you might never need gas.

Plug-in Progress

Toyota is testing prototypes of the plug-in Prius in the United States, Japan and France. Additional studies are underway at the University of California at Irvine and at the University of California at Berkeley. These programs are charged with researching consumer expectations of plug-in hybrids. The goal is to determine the sweet spot in the mix of cost, electric range, battery size and charging time to make the best plug-in Prius possible.

10/9/2008 2:04:04 AM

that certainly hits on a major point of our penny wise, pound foolish society. purchasing an expensive environmentally intensive manufactured (and eventual disposal) vehicle. As these cars age they will lose power and MPG as the batteries deteriorate, and it's very unlikely that those in the market for second and third hand cars will be financially willing or able to spend several thousands of dollars on top of the cost of the car to replace batteries and other components. Yes, they will be a great boon to the upwardly mobile, who can spend lavishly, throw away the undesirable and feel good that they are somehow saving the planet, but for those of us that no longer march in the consumer parade and look farther down the road to see what happens where the parade disperses, costs and what's left to clean up, these might well wind up being albatrosses that are no better than that old mini-van, but with much less room and carrying around hundreds of pounds of dead batteries.

Teresa Holler_1
10/6/2008 1:09:58 PM

Wouldn't it be great if we all had wind or solar powered homes to plug these rechargeable hybrids into? The time has certainly come. Legislators could make this technology affordable if they chose to. All we need to do is front the trillions of dollars that will be saved by averting environmentally mediated diseases in the near future and use it for this technology! The quality of our environment is directly linked to the quality of our health. It is time to Stop Treating! Start Preventing! Teresa Holler

10/5/2008 9:35:02 AM

I've found elsewhere that the vehicle will use about 0.25kWh per mile. So I calculated the cost per mile like so (which makes more sense the me than mpg). Lumina (L) miles per unit = 23 (gasoline) Prius (P) miles per unit = 4 (electric, 1 mile / 0.25kWh) L: 1 unit / 23 miles = 0.0435 units/mile P: 1 unit / 4 miles = 0.25 units/mile L: 0.0435 u/m * $3.00 / unit = $0.1305 / mile P: 0.25 u/m * $0.1635 / unit = $0.0409 / mile 7 mile trip L: $0.9135 P: $0.2863 100 miles driven (aggregate, short daily commutes) L: $13.05 P: $04.09 These figures look a lot different when you play with the numbers. With a 35mpg car, it only costs half as much per mile (instead of 3 times). But with $4/gallon gas, the cost for the same vehicle gets close to 3 times as much again. With cheaper utilities, say $0.10 kWh, the Prius only costs $2.50 for a 100 mile trip, making it over 5 times less costly as the $3/gallon / 23mpg Lumina, and about 7 times less costly with $4/gallon gas. I don't think very many new electric or hybrid make any sense from a narrow focused pure cost perspective anyways. They don't make up for the cost difference in gas savings in the long run (though that doesn't factor reliability and maintenance cost). But when compared to what it would cost to make great environmental and social changes without them, they're a steal.

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