Upcoming Prius plugin to achieve 50 mpg fuel economy

Upcoming Prius plug-in to achieve 50 mpg fuel economy.

Toyota Upgrades Prius Plug-In Ahead of March Debut

The PHEV’s new Li-ion battery pack weighs 176 lbs., compared with the prototype’s heftier 351 lbs., giving the car a better electric driving range.

LA JOLLA, CA – Thanks to a new, lighter lithium-ion battery, Toyota estimates its upcoming Prius plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle will achieve 50 mpg (4.7 L/100 km) in combined driving and garner a 95 MPGe rating.

The prototype PHEV was pegged at 49 mpg (4.8 L/100 km), with an estimated 87 MPGe.

MPGe is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s approved mile-per-gallon equivalent for electric cars. The Chevrolet Volt extended-range EV has a 94 MPGe rating and the Nissan all-electric Leaf is rated at 99 MPGe.

The Prius PHEV’s new Li-ion battery pack weighs 176 lbs. (80 kg), compared with the prototype’s heftier 351-lbs. (159-kg) pack, Dave Lee, instructor for the University of Toyota dealer-training unit, tells WardsAuto here at a Prius media event.

"In general, this new battery is giving us better EV range," he says.

The previous pack, made by a Panasonic joint venture, also gobbled up cargo space and did not have as wide a charge and discharge window as the new pack from Panasonic’s Sanyo subsidiary, Lee says.

The Panasonic battery pack was rated at 4.4 kWh, while the new Sanyo version is rated at 5.2 kWh.

Unlike the prototype Prius PHEV WardsAuto drove nearly two years ago, the production model, on sale in 14 U.S. states in March, does not default to EV mode. Instead, it requires activation using a dedicated button. Because EV mode is not as effective at high speeds, Toyota decided to let the driver decide to engage it, Lee says.

But speeds beyond 62 mph (100 km/h) automatically will disengage the EV mode, as will a heavy throttle at lower speeds. Lee says the car perceives a mashing of the accelerator to signal an emergency-avoidance situation.

In a short test here of a pre-production Prius PHEV at low speeds around the University of California-San Diego campus, miles of battery range were lost faster than miles traveled, with 13 miles (21 km) of charge depleted after just 11.2 miles (18 km) driven.

However, the rate of battery depletion slowed after the first third of the route, as braking replenished some charge.

Lee says Toyota’s testing shows the production PHEV can travel up to 15 miles (24 km) on a single charge, depending on weather conditions, compared with 13 miles, which was the top end of the prototype’s range two years ago.

Unlike Toyota’s upcoming RAV4 EV, due in July and initially destined for the major metro markets of California, the Prius PHEV will go national, likely by March 2013, Bob Carter, group vice president and general manager-Toyota Div., tells WardsAuto.

"Once we catch up to demand, which we think is going to be a year, we're committed to taking that vehicle 50-state," Carter says.

Pricing for the Prius PHEV begins at $32,760, including destination and handling. However, the plug-in is eligible for a $2,500 maximum federal tax credit, less than the $7,500 credit the Volt and Leaf can receive.

Toyota expects the PHEV model to account for 5% of total annual Prius delilveries in the U.S. Global sales of the car reportedly are pegged at 60,000 units annually.

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