Over the holiday weekend, Japanese news daily Nikkei reported that Toyota will start mass producing plug-in hybrid vehicles in 2012.
The plug-in Prius will have a reported all-electric range of 12.4-18.6 miles after a full charge, and will cost $48,000—roughly twice the price of the regular gasoline-hybrid Prius.
Considering that a used Prius can be converted into a plug-in hybrid today for less than $15,000—giving the car the same or better statistics and driving range—I’d have to ask: what the hell is Toyota thinking?About a year ago, it seemed that the big players on the plug-in hybrid/electric scene would emerge in 2010, and would consist of Toyota, Tesla, Fisker, and GM. Toyota had a major advantage: the Prius is already built and the plug-in conversion plans were already outlined by DIY fanatics. Additionally, it looked like Toyota was the only contender that could produce an affordable car that every day consumers would consider more-or-less normal.
Many have already expressed outrage at the cost of the fully-electric Tesla Roadster ($110,00), and even the Chevy Volt, which is expected to launch around $40,000. But for $8,000 less, you get twice the car: the Volt will get double the range (40 miles all electric).
Perhaps Toyota is satisfied with owning the gasoline-hybrid market (they’ve already expressed doubts about the concept of plug-in hybrids) and seems willing to hand over this new market. Whatever the motive, the company will build about 20-30,000 plug-ins in 2012, and will be quietly leasing 500 test plug-ins in late 2009 to government and corporate fleets.