Toyota Launches Three-Year Study of Prius Plug-In With UC Research Teams
But environmentalists say three years is too far away
By Brendan Moore
Toyota (and Lexus, its luxury brand) own around 79% of the hybrid market in the United States so far this year. The Toyota Prius by itself accounts for 50% of all hybrid sales. The residents of the state of California, where automotive trends start for the rest of the U.S., buy 26% of all the hybrids sold in the whole country.
The reason for these statistics is to point out just how important the hybrid business is to Toyota, how important the Prius is to hybrid sales, and how important California is to Toyota.
So it shouldn’t be any surprise that Toyota Motor Corp. has signed an agreement with researchers at the University of California at Berkely (UCB) and the University of California at Irvine (UCI) to study consumer behavior concerning plug-in hybrids (PHEVs). The research, to conducted in tandem with Toyota R&D, will focus on a version of the Prius that can be run on electric power only and can recharged by plugging into a standard household outlet.
The two UC schools will split up the research around consumer behavior before, during and after use of the vehicles.
According to an article on this same subject by Reuters, Susan Shaheen, research director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at UC Berkeley, stated, “We will be looking at lifestyles — how people are using the vehicles, Where they drive, how they recharge the vehicles, when they recharge the vehicles. And we will ask them a great deal about their perceptions.”
Researchers will seek to learn how long drivers want the plug-ins to run on electric power only, how much they will pay for one, and where they will use charging stations. Shaheen said the first results of the Berkeley consumer studies would be ready in about a year.
UC Irvine will concentrate on technical issues, such as how much electricity will be taken from the regional power grid as thousands of hybrid owners plug in.”Using real-world settings, we will begin to answer some of these open questions,” said Scott Samuelsen, director of the Advance Power and Energy Program at UC Irvine.”
The state government of California is a global leader in environmental initiatives and is involved in providing funding for PHEV research in other ways: the California Air Resources Board and the California Energy Commission funnels money to entities involved in research and development of alternative energy technologies. Funding is metered out from the State of California under Assembly Bill 1811, which is an incentive program for alternative fuels.
Toyota has stated in the past that they will not be developing replacement battery packs for the current Prius that would function as battery upgrades and be sold separately in order to accomplish the goal of bringing a plug-in hybrid to market. Environmental advocates have been pushing for such a move recently, but Toyota has strongly rebuffed the idea.
GM, with who Toyota is in a struggle for the No. 1 auto maker position, has committed to having the Chevrolet Volt, a PHEV, on sale in 2010, and furthermore says it may produce as many as 50,000 Volts in the first year of production. Toyota fans and alternative energy fans both have questioned why Toyota is taking so long with the plug-in version of the Prius, but Toyota refuses to be rushed into bringing a product to market that it says does not yet meet Toyota standards for performance and durability.
Toyota has also emphasized repeatedly that it is not competing with GM on a launch date for a PHEV in the United States.
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