Saturday, August 30

Top Prius Dealer Starts Taking Deposits For PHEVs

Impatient customers in Palo Alto are putting down $500 for the first Toyota Prius Plug-in due out soon.

Felix Kramer of CalCars reports that Magnussen Toyota of Palo Alto in California, one of the top Prius dealers in the US, has begun taking $500 deposits for the plug-in Prius that Toyota announced this week it is now working on completing by 2009. The California activist group CalCars says that one Toyota dealer moving ahead of the pack will encourage others, and help speed the arrival of PHEVs into the market. They hope carmakers will get the message that their customers want plug-in cars, and accelerate their plans.

Activist grous have long publicized the development of Prius conversions that can get over a hundred mpg. No doubt we have all seen images of the ubiquitous +100 mpg Prius in this picture.

Initially, Toyota had been reluctant to join in with the other auto companies moving to electric vehicles in the last few years, despite the popularity of their RAV4 EV, created in response to the CARB zero emissions rules of the 90's. The few remaining are still going strong, now fetching as much as $70,000 on eBay.

Understandably enough, Toyota had felt no natural impulse to create a competitor for its own Prius hybrid that has been enjoying a virtual monopoly in the restricted US market.

But unremitting pressure from EV groups like CalCars to perfect the good has altered Toyota's plans. Last July, Toyota said that their plug-in adaptation of their Prius hybrid had advanced to the point where it was able to be driven legally on public roads in Japan. This week, Green CarCongress reports that Toyota now plans to accelerate PHEV development:

President Watanabe now plans plug-ins for fleet deployment as soon as 2009: earlier than the previous 2010 target, and plans an additional "next-generation electric vehicle" to follow. These are not mere fluffy green press releases, either. Toyota has already ramped up battery pack production capability with Panasonic EV Energy.

EV activists believe that without waiting for any new technology or infrastructure, Toyota could begin to build and sell first-generation plug-in hybrids now to early adopters and fleet customers. And as batteries improve, “good enough to get started” will become better and better. As long ago as 2005, the New York Times noted that the popular hybrids were being hacked to get 100 mpg. Classes in converting hybrids to plug in have been held by many engineering schools around the country: hands-on demonstrations that the technology is here now. This dealer's initiative marks the second time that dealers have applied pressure to Toyota to move faster. Previously, some dealers had offered aftermarket conversions which are available for the Prius for $10,000 or so that you can already buy directly from Hymotion.

Photo by the author

For Matternetwork