I’ve been driving the Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid here in Britain, a new high-technology car which will keep the number crunchers at the Nissan Renault alliance awake at night.
Toyota hasn’t yet published the full specification of the car. That will happen when it is launched in the New Year.
This new gasoline-electric Prius hybrid has a more powerful battery than the current model, allowing it to travel 12.5 miles on electricity alone. That’s up from about one mile now. That might not sound like much compared with battery-only cars like the Nissan of Japan’s Leaf up to 70 odd miles (the EPA rates the Leaf’s at 73 miles, The Federal Trade Commission rates it at 96-110 miles per charge).
But it’s the lack of flexibility offered by battery-only cars like the already on sale Leaf and its Renault of France affiliate’s cars like the Zoe, which goes on sale in Europe next year, which is raising eyebrows. The Zoe will account for 150,000 of the 250,000 EVs Renault aims to produce annually by 2013. The Renault-Nissan alliance expects to have an annual EV capacity of 500,000 in a few years.
The BBC’s Top Gear motoring program, which is syndicated across the world, ridiculed the Leaf and a Mitsubishi electric car in a recent program. The show’s presenters set off on a journey to the seaside, and had to wait on the way for 11 hours for the cars to be recharged. Britain’s Sunday Times ran a story about the Leaf the previous week underlining the range anxiety effect, and how its reporter was forced to turn off things like air conditioning and demisting in order to struggle home.
That’s what makes the Nissan-Renault alliance’s decision to go for battery-only cars so hard to understand. The Chevrolet Volt and its European equivalent the Vauxhall-Opel Ampera using the extended range electric vehicle concept has a battery-only range of perhaps 40 miles, but can then switch to a gasoline engine to drive the car up to about 300 miles. The EPA rating is 379 miles.
The Prius plug-in can achieve just over 108 miles per gallon, according to European Union figures. And although when the gasoline engine is engaged it is far from the zero emissions claimed by Nissan for the Leaf, it will probably never strand you miles from home. Once the battery power has been used up, the car performs like a regular hybrid, with the electric power being used to back up the performance of the gasoline engine, and storing power when the car is freewheeling. A full lithium-ion battery recharge takes about 90 minutes from a standard home socket, or a roadside charging point. The Prius plug-in is expected to go on sale in the U.S. in the summer of 2012. No word yet on price.
The point about the Prius and the Volt is that they don’t promise a perfect solution to the problems of emissions, but they provide a sensible, practical compromise. They aren’t cheap, but if you had to choose between one of these and a battery-only vehicle, the decision , as they say, is a no brainer.
Neil Winton – October 20, 2011