Unless you live under a box you're aware that Toyota is currently riding high in the green-tech Olympics on the strength of the all-conquering Prius.    In the U.S. alone the Prius sold almost 160,000 units last year.  Overall Toyota sold 240,000 hybrids in the U.S., while Ford and Honda are currently duking it out for the number two spot, with each selling roughly 10% of that number.   The status quo must be looking pretty good to the top brass at Toyota as it not only kills with actual hybrid sales, but gets a huge marketing boost across the lineup from it's aura of green leadership.

But with many automakers publicizing their coming  plug-in hybrid or pure EV vehicles in an attempt to both get ahead of the curve and appear to be ahead of the curve,  public perception is beginning to shift.  Toyota may be in danger of losing it's perceived technological leadership.  So it too is now introducing it's own plug-in, albeit in a remarkably conservative (not to say reluctant) fashion.

Only five hundred will be made available in North America over the next three years while the design is studied.  Then, according to the company, a final version will be produced and become more widely available.

Interestingly Toyota has tentatively rejected the Chevy Volt assumption that 40 miles of electric range is optimal (or the Nissan Leaf assumption of over 100) and will instead be providing something like fifteen miles electric.   According to Tom Stricker, Director of the Energy and Environmental research group for Toyota North America, the three year pilot program will be trying to find a "sweet Spot"- a balance between all-electric range and the cost of the expensive batteries needed to provide it.  Toyota is apparently calculating that shorter all-electric range but at a slightly lower vehicle price will be the most attractive package for consumers.  This is a reasonable bet to make in the face of uncertainties concerning the future of petroleum prices, and ongoing debate about the real extent of demand for EV's and PHEV's (don't believe the hype?), but it's hard not to suspect that the strategy is at least partially conditioned by an institutional reluctance to change the current winning-formula any more than is absolutely necessary.

[Source: The New York Times]