When it goes on sale in the first quarter of next year, the Piaggio MP3 Hybrid scooter will become the first mass-market plug-in hybrid vehicle to be sold in the United States. With an estimated mileage of 141 mpg, a unique, leaning three-wheel chassis which makes it easy for beginners to ride, and a low price somewhere around $9,000.00, the MP3 may also turn out to be one of the most popular.
Piaggio's hybrid system is virtually identical to that of the popular Toyota Prius with one major exception: plug the MP3 Hybrid into a standard wall outlet and you can fully charge its battery pack in just three hours. It can then run on its batteries alone for up to 40 miles, or that energy can be used in parallel with the 125cc gasoline engine, accelerating the scooter from zero to sixty mph in under five seconds.
In fact, the MP3 Hybrid can operate in any one of four modes: the aforementioned electric-only or three hybrid modes designed to maximize performance, minimize fuel consumption or recharge the Lithium Ion batteries quickly.
The company has not yet released specs on the battery's size and energy density, but informed guesswork suggests that it may be below the 2.5kwh limit that triggers the U.S. tax credit. Nevertheless, with scooter sales exploding (Piaggio alone saw a 60% rise in U.S. sales from 2007 to 2008) the market's apparent hunger for plug-in hybrid technology, and the relatively low buy-in cost for the MP3, this three-wheeler may be uniquely suited to lead the coming PHEV charge.