July 31, 2007 Toyota’s Prius was pretty much the mass-market pioneer of hybrid cars
and its sales success has demonstrated to the company that a significant sector of the community are willing to pay a premium for a car that’s both exceptionally fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly. Still, it remains a petrol-based car in its current form, using its electric motor mainly to maintain cruising speed and charging it indirectly through the output of the petrol engine. Toyota’s latest announcement could turn that equation on its head – by incorporating bigger, longer-lasting batteries and enabling plug-in overnight charging, they’re experimenting with making the Prius a primarily electric-powered car that only falls back on petrol when it absolutely has to. The changes could give the Prius massive fuel economy if used for short commutes – between 100 and 500 miles per gallon is possible. Although the company’s sticking with old-school nickel-metal hydride batteries instead of the latest lithium-based
units ( and it may well only be doing this in response to some smart aftermarket operators
) this could be our first glimpse of a mass-market commercial car that runs primarily on batteries, but has all the comfort of petrol to fall back on.
Many people including the California Cars Initiative (CalCars), see the short to medium term future of hybrid cars as plug-in hybrids – hybrids where you can choose not to use petroleum should you wish. They claim that the biggest problem with the current Honda and Toyota hybrids is that you can’t charge their batteries overnight because they’ve been designed to gently wean the population off petrol. So CalCars decided to jump-start the market for plug-in hybrids itself, taking a Toyota Prius, adding much bigger batteries and modifying it so it could be plugged into the electricity supply and charged overnight. The aim is to harness the collective vision and purchasing power of individuals and corporate and government fleets and get a major auto manufacturer to produce plug-in versions of existing hybrids.
Toyota's 2004 Prius petrol and electric hybrid is the first second-generation hybrid car and one which is expected to challenge Honda's Insight for the title of the world's most fuel-efficient car.The Prius uses a 50kW electric motor that is more than 50 percent more powerful than the previous model, and with similar performance to many current petrol-engined small cars. The 2004 Prius is the first Toyota vehicle equipped with its next generation drive-train, named "Hybrid Synergy Drive" which offers greater power and fuel economy with extremely low emissions. The Hybrid Synergy Drive integrates all aspects of Prius' hybrid system, from the proper mix of the electric motor and gas engine for optimum performance and efficiency, to the regeneration of electricity via Prius unique braking system. Regenerative braking is a feature of hybrid vehicles that allows the motor to act as a generator when braking.