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In June, Toyota starts testing plug-in fleet

Automotive News reports on Toyota's plans to start testing plug-in hybrids.

Prius Plug-in
Before the Prius plug-in goes on sale in 2012, 150 U.S. drivers will put the hybrid -- and Toyota?s first lithium ion battery -- to the test.
Prius Plug-in
Before the Prius plug-in goes on sale in 2012, 150 U.S. drivers will put the hybrid -- and Toyota's first lithium ion battery -- to the test. Toyota

SAN DIEGO--Toyota will put a small test fleet of its first plug-in hybrids into the hands of U.S. drivers starting in June.

The 150 Prius plug-ins will go to individuals, businesses, and government agencies as part of a global demonstration before the vehicle goes on sale in 2012.

The test fleet will allow Toyota to assess its first lithium ion battery, introduce consumers to its plug-ins, and monitor how drivers use the vehicles.

"We want to know if people pay attention to their energy use," Jaycee Chitwood, manager of advanced technologies for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., said during a press event here.

Toyota's plug-in uses a small lithium ion battery pack and the same 1.8-liter inline-4 that equips the standard Prius hybrid. The battery pack fully charges in about three hours, but the vehicle goes only about 13 miles in full electric mode before the gasoline engine kicks in and the car drives like the standard Prius hybrid.

Chevrolet's Volt plug-in hybrid travels about 40 miles on battery-powered electricity. After 40 miles, the internal combustion engine kicks in, generating electricity.

"We decided to go with a smaller battery that needs more charges," Chitwood said. "That's a decision we made. That's part of the test."

So far, Toyota has said that the vehicles will go to Qualcomm Inc. in San Diego; the University of California, Berkeley; Portland (Ore.) State University; Silicon Valley Leadership Group; the South Coast Air Quality Management District; and residents of Boulder, Colo., who participate in the city's SmartGridCity project.

Boulder's grid system allows researchers to monitor electric vehicles, including how batteries respond to high altitude situations and extreme temperature. Chitwood says Boulder has meters, cables to transmit data, and Web portals that show their energy use.

She says Toyota also is looking at placing vehicles in such cities as New York and Washington, D.C. She expects each user to drive the vehicles for a maximum of three months.

(Source: Automotive News)