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Toyota touts hybrids

Toyota touts hybrids

I recently drove down to Los Angeles for an informational seminar on hybrids, sponsored by Toyota. Actually, the lesson began when I got on the 405 at 5 p.m.--which is not the time you want to get on this freeway running through Los Angeles, but everyone does anyway. Crawling along in this severe traffic, I could only envy the line of Priuses humming along in the HOV lane. Ironically, the Priuses would have gotten better fuel economy if they had been stuck in that start-and-stop traffic, but I'm sure their owners were just as happy to sacrifice a few miles per gallon for a quicker trip home.

The seminar itself had the most detailed information I've seen yet on how Toyota's hybrid system works. One presentation showed precisely where the motor/generators sit in the power train and outlined the planetary gear power-split component that lets both the engine and the motor drive the wheels. Even though there was a demonstration unit to illustrate how the power splitter works, I still have trouble wrapping my head around it.

Toyota also wanted to refute a few myths about hybrids. For one, the battery packs have been tested for 180,000 miles and experienced no degradation, so people shouldn't fear expensive battery-pack replacements. The high-voltage wires coming from the battery pack are well insulated, color-coded in bright orange, and a circuit breaker cuts off the electricity flow in a crash or when the car is being serviced. Toyota also pointed out that, although real-world miles-per-gallon figures are lower than what the EPA reports, it's that way for all cars, with a comparable percentage variance.

Of course, the best part of the seminar was driving all of the current Toyota and Lexus current models. From Toyota, that was the 2006 Prius, the 2007 Camry Hybrid, and the 2006 Highlander Hybrid. The Lexus hybrids on hand were the 2006 RX 400h and the 2007 GS 450h.