Company wants to begin "societal preparation"

The Toyota Prius is the world's best selling hybrid-electric vehicle, making up a significant portion of the two million hybrids that Toyota has put in the hands of consumers. Some environmentalists still dream of an affordable battery electric vehicle which would never need to burn gasoline, but the most likely scenario for the next decade will be plug-in hybrids like the Chevrolet Volt.

Toyota has announced that it will begin production of 500 Prius plug-in hybrids for a long-term test program. They will use a a first generation lithium-ion battery that enables all-electric operation at higher speeds and longer distances than the conventional Prius hybrid. When fully charged, the vehicle should be able to achieve a maximum electric-only range of approximately 13 miles (21 KM), and be capable of achieving highway speeds of up to 60 MPH (96.5 KM/h) in electric-only mode.

Only 150 of those hybrids will make their way to the U.S. early next year, while 350 will go to Asia and Europe starting this month. Toyota wants to gather real-world vehicle-use feedback to better understand customer expectations for plug-in technology. It also hopes to confirm real-world performance of first-generation lithium-ion battery technology and spur the development of public-access charging stations.

Production of the 500 batteries started in early November by Panasonic Electric Vehicle Energy, Toyota's joint venture which also produces the nickel-metal hydride batteries used in all Toyota and Lexus hybrids.

All of the plug-ins will be equipped with data retrieval devices which will monitor activities such as how often the vehicle is charged and when; whether the batteries are depleted or being topped off during charging; trip duration, all-EV driving range, and combined MPG.

"This program is a necessary first step in societal preparation, in that it allows us the unique opportunity to inform, educate and prepare customers for the introduction of plug-in hybrid technology," said Irv Miller, Toyota's Group Vice President for Environmental and Public Affairs. "When these vehicles come to market, customers must understand what to expect and if this technology is the right fit for them."

"We don't know how to make a $500 computer that's not a piece of junk." -- Apple CEO Steve Jobs

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