Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid On Sale in 2011, Less Than $10K More

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2010 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show

2010 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show

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As a plug-in battle starts to take shape among the 2011 Chevrolet Volt, the 2012 Nissan Leaf, and a rechargeable version of Toyota's popular Prius hybrid, Toyota has upped the ante by focusing on its best weapon: affordability.

The company announced today that it would put a production version of its Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid on sale to consumers in 2011, likely as a 2012 model. And a company spokesman specifically stressed that it would compete on price.

Less than $10K more

According to Bloomberg,  executive vice president Takeshi Uchiyamada said Toyota will put the car on sale in 2011 at a price he called "affordable." The company had showed the car for the first time in the U.S. at the Los Angeles Auto Show earlier this month.

Specifically, he noted that third-party conversion kits that add plug-in capability to a Prius offered by companies like Hymotion now cost almost $10,000. The price differential would be less than the cost of converting, he said.

The vehicle can be recharged by plugging it into a 110-Volt or 220-Volt household electric outlet.

2010 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show

2010 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show

2010 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show

2010 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show

2011 Chevrolet Cruze and pre-production 2011 Chevrolet Volt

2011 Chevrolet Cruze and pre-production 2011 Chevrolet Volt

2011 Nissan Leaf prototype

2011 Nissan Leaf prototype

We would expect some decline in the price of those kits over the next two years, as volume production of lithium-ion cells gets underway in the U.S. and costs come down.

That could bring the plug-in premium into a range of $5,000 to $8,000 over today's $35,000 price for a top-of-the-line 2010 Toyota Prius. The plug-in cost will be partially offset by a $2,500 Federal tax credit for the first 60,000 plug-ins sold by Toyota.

Volt, Leaf not yet priced

No prices have been announced for the 2011 Chevy Volt, although it is expected to be offered for $35,000 to $40,000. The Volt, too, is eligible for a Federal tax credit--in this case, the maximum of $7,500.

No pricing has been announced for the 2012 Nissan Leaf either, although the company has said the price of the car will be "competitive" with similar compacts. It will also qualify for a $7,500 tax credit.

Nissan is expected to lease the battery packs under a separate payment scheme added on top of the vehicle cost, though the length of the lease and any upgrade possibilities at the end of the term remain unclear at the moment.

Test fleet increased to 600

Until Toyota launches the retail Prius Plug-In, it will provide a test fleet of 600 units to governments and businesses in Japan, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, starting next month.

That fleet of 600 represents an increase of 100 over the 500 that had previously been announced two weeks ago at the LA Auto Show.

The U.S. will receive 150 test Prius Plug-In Hybrids. Most of them will be used by government agencies, corporations, universities and research agencies to collect data on real-world driving use and recharging habits.

Electric range, gas mileage: It all depends...

The electric range of the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid is up to 14 miles, though it will depend entirely on where, how, and how fast it's used. And the same applies to its claimed fuel economy of 134 miles per gallon, which will vary greatly with usage and how often the gasoline engine has to switch on.

It is the first Toyota that will feature lithium-ion cells in its battery pack, which carry roughly twice the energy of the nickel-metal-hydride batteries that have been used in every one of the 2 million hybrids Toyota has built since 1997. It will also have more energy capacity: roughly 4 kilowatt-hours as compared to the standard pack's 1.6 kWh.

[Bloomberg, Toyota]

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