At the Detroit and Chicago auto shows earlier this year, Toyota began a clever marketing campaign to kick off the concept of multiple Prius models by asking consumers what the plural of "Prius" should be, because soon, there will be four models, not just one. One of those models will be the Prius PHV, or "Plug-in Hybrid Vehicle," which the Chicago Tribune was able to get a hand-on experience with.
Like the new Chevrolet Volt, the PHV will operate like a regular gas-electric hybrid, but you can plug it in to household current to add to vehicle electric-only range. The PHV takes about three hours hooked up to a regular 110-volt outlet to completely charge, and then is good for about 13 miles of electric-only travel. So, if your daily commute is less than 13 miles, the Prius can make it without burning any gasoline.
The Prius PHV uses a more sophisticated 288-cell lithium-ion battery, as opposed to the nickel-metal hydride battery back in the regular Prius. Lithium-ion doesn't have a memory, meaning you don't have to "train" the battery like nickel-metal hydride to accept full charges. Toyota says the materials to make lithium-ion batteries costs less than nickel-metal hydride, but production costs are greater.
Once the Prius PHV runs out of pure-battery power, it operates like any other Prius. Toyota hasn't released mileage figures, but even after the 13-mile runs using the battery, a test driver averaged 53.7 mpg, driving very conservatively.
This extra battery capacity adds weight, and takes up trunk space -- a placard in the PHV said that if you get a flat tire, call roadside assistance, as there is no room for a spare. On the road, you feel the extra weight, especially in corners, but the average Prius driver won't notice much difference. Outside, the only distinction is an extra little panel in front of the driver's door that pops open for the plug -- it looks just like the fuel-filler door at the rear of the car.
Toyota hasn't released prices for the Prius PHV, and won't for a while, but the best guess is it could add maybe $3,500 to the price. If going 13 miles on pure electricity is meaningful to you, it's worth it. But if you drive, say, 100 miles a day, it may not be.
[via The Chicago Tribune]
Photo courtesy of Joel C. Garcia and re-used under the Creative Commons license.