Toyota will roll out the Prius Prime to dealers in May. The Prius Prime is a plug-in hybrid gas-electric vehicle. While hybrids are known for combining gas engines and electric motors, the Prius Prime will operate primarily on battery power with the gasoline engine serving as a backup. Toyota is branding it a practical electric vehicle.
Toyota, Ford Motor Co. and Hyundai Motor Co. are among global brands rolling out new plug-in hybrid gas-electric cars. While most hybrids on the road today combine gas engines with electric motors to save fuel, plug-in hybrids can drive primarily on batteries—with the engine as a backup—making them the closest thing to a full EV on the road.Toyota is rebranding its plug-ins as “practical electric vehicles” that work for average American commuters who want to drive mostly on electric power but worry about range on longer trips. Its 2023 Prius Prime plug-in, which will start to arrive at U.S. dealers in May, is capable of driving up to 44 miles on a battery alone.
For many environmental groups, plug-in hybrids still aren’t good enough because they burn fossil fuel. Some industry analysts aren’t sure plug-ins are a great business opportunity either, given the fast-rising interest in pure EVs made by Tesla Inc. and others.
One of the biggest risks for the plug-in market comes from regulators in places like California who are moving to limit or exclude plug-in hybrids from rules mandating a transition to electric.
Toyota’s recently appointed chief executive, Koji Sato, made the case for plug-in hybrids on Friday.
“There are regions that are moving speedily toward EVs and others that are taking more time,” Mr. Sato said. Investing in plug-in hybrids “is a practical way in which we can shift toward electrified vehicles,” he said.
Toyota’s goal, Mr. Sato said, is to increase the range of plug-in hybrid vehicles so that the resemblance to full EVs grows closer. The company said earlier this month that it planned to develop plug-in models capable of driving more than 200 kilometers, or about 124 miles, in EV mode.
“We want to change the understanding of what a plug-in hybrid is,” Mr. Sato said.
EV-charging infrastructure is lacking in many parts of the world and even where it does exist, the stations are often plagued with problems. In the U.S., one in five electric vehicle public-station charging attempts resulted in failure last year, according to a report from J.D. Power.
Dealers say the average price of an EV—$58,940 in the U.S. last month—is also preventing wider uptake. The Prius Prime starts at $33,445.
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