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Evolutionary Or Revolutionary Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid

The next wave of cars is coming in, after the onslaught of hybrids and while waiting for more range from electric car, plug-in hybrids offer the best of both worlds. Where is Toyota positioning its long-awaited Prius plug-in hybrid?


While Waiting For Godot, The Plug-In Hybrid Came. If you take a bird’s eye view of the automotive industry, you might see things simply. Horse carriage gave way to steam engines, which gave way to electric motors only to be dethroned by the internal combustion engine. Seems simple enough, no? But there’s a little more to the story.

Somewhere along the lines, what was once profitable yesterday is no longer today. Business models are made to answer current demands and most automobile companies find their business models challenged by the new demands of weary consumers. While the reintroduction of electric cars promises freedom from the oppressive up and down of gasoline price at the pump, the truth of the matter is that many feel 70 miles of electric range just isn’t enough. Fair enough. How about a plug-in hybrid then?

Plug-In Hybrid As The Perfect Middle Road. The plug-in hybrid, PHEV market has been small so far with only GM’s Volt and Fisker’s Karma filling in the ranks. You can now add two new contenders, Toyota’s much-awaited Prius PHEV and Ford’s Fusion and C-MAX Energi, both plug-in hybrids, while waiting for even more options. While Ford claims impressive numbers and performance, 47mpg all across average for both hybrids and plug-in hybrids, the Prius PHEV might seem to lag a little.

Evolutionary Or Revolutionary? It would be a stretch to call the Prius plug-in hybrid a revolutionary product. After all, we’ve been asking Toyota since 2008 to do a plug-in version of its Prius. And if so, then the original tweakers of the Bay Area deserve credit for transforming the first generation of Prius into PHEVs. The Prius PHEV doesn’t shine particularly, but this might be for a specific reason. You see the Prius doesn’t need to. Everyone knows what a Prius is and Toyota just needs to continue fine tweaking its business models to make its line of hybrids more profitable.

Toyota does one thing well, it churns out methodically good quality cars without highs or lows. The cars are mass targeted and even though the company has a strong race arm, it only uses that technology in a very subdued and calm way. With Toyota, it’s all about sustaining the endurance of sales then revolutionizing products. That’s why pitting a Ford Fusion or C-MAX Energi isn’t really representative. Both cars come from cultures worlds apart. Ford is hungry to prove itself again, Toyota just wants to sustain its success.

So, who will buy the Prius PHEV? Chances are the PHEV version of Toyota’s Prius will find a home with people who don’t fully grasp the differences between series and parallel plug-in hybrid systems and know they will always buy Toyota, no questions asked.


Anonymous (not verified)    September 4, 2012 - 12:46PM

Why would you say "people who don't fully grasp the differences between a series and parallel hybrid"? Adding a few more kWhs while the battery cost is still high to their parallel system is a smart move. I expect Ford's Cmax will provide increased competition in the same hybrid architecture. Depending upon your drive cycle, Toyota's PHEV does save fuel - but going from 50 to 80 mpg yields smaller savings than most appreciate - so why spend more on a series EV if economics the objective?
Series hybrid EVs force larger battery packs at higher first costs to the consumer.

Nicolas Zart    September 4, 2012 - 2:18PM

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

I'm not sure I fully understand your question, but I'll try to answer it. I meant people who don't necessarily understand the intricacies of plug-in hybrids might not know the difference between a Fisker Karma and Prius PHEV, besides cost. Choosing between a Ford Fusion or C-MAX Energi with a Toyota Prius PHEV might just boil down to brand recognition for most.

I actually favor pure electric cars, in general although I feel PHEVs are a a great stepping stone until engineers can meet the public demands' wild 150+ mile pure electric range. The debate between series and parallel PHEVs is not really interesting since series is good at low speed and parallel better at higher speed. Next gen PHEVs will have to do both, like the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV will.

I feel the Toyota Prius PHEV is a mild evolution to its mild hybrid version and works well at that. I hope I answered your question.