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Can The Prius Popularize Plug-In Hybrid Electric Cars? [Updated]

The Prius made hybrids acceptable. Now Toyota is going to try to use those good feelings to get people to plug in.

Can The Prius Popularize Plug-In Hybrid Electric Cars? [Updated]

Plug-in Prius

If we say "hybrid," you probably picture a Prius. It's not surprising; the Toyota Prius was the first mass-produced hybrid (it went on sale in the U.S. in 2001) and it remains the most popular today. But regular hybrids are quickly becoming old hat—the next generation of gas-sipping vehicles can juice up from a standard plug in your garage, not just when you're braking on the road. Toyota, which doesn't want to get left behind after pioneering the hybrid game, plans to lead the charge.

Toyota is planning on making a plug-in version of the Prius the standard option by 2014, according to Reuters. That means customers looking to buy a new Prius will be directed immediately toward the plug-in, which will be released next year alongside the conventional Prius hybrid. It's safe to assume that Toyota is waiting a few years to make the plug-in Prius standard because potential customers are only now becoming familiar with the idea of plugging in their cars at night, thanks to recently released plug-in cars like the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt.

The 2012 plug-in Prius will cost approximately $5,000 more than a conventional version. After a full charge, you'll be able to go 14 miles on the lithium-ion battery before the hybrid drivetrain kicks in. Even then, it will get an overall fuel economy of 134 mpg. These specs will likely improve by the time the 2014 plug-in is released.

So can Toyota actually wean us from our gasoline habit? The company is at least making a valiant effort. Consider: Toyota has sold 3 million Priuses worldwide since 1997, and sales have skyrocketed in recent years (the last million vehicles sold in just 18 months). If Toyota can sell even a fraction of that for its plug-ins, the U.S. may just be able to reach Obama's goal of putting one million plug-in EVs on the road by 2015. It's a start.

Update: Toyota now denies that it will make the Prius plug-in standard by 2014, according to USA Today. Obama's EV goal just got a little bit more unrealistic.

[Image: Toyota]

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