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Dealership Accepts Hopeful Deposits for Plug-in Prius

By · August 31, 2008

Update: Less than a month after a dealers starting taking deposits for delivery of plug-in hybrid Priuses, dealers started returning them to the customers. The problem was that Toyota had not announced any retail timetable for sale of the plug-ins.

Magnussen’s Toyota of Palo Alto, a Northern California Toyota dealer, took the bold step of starting to take $500 deposits for 2010 plug-in Priuses—even before a grid-capable Prius has been announced as an official product. The dealer’s spokesperson told Edmunds.com, a consumer information website, that the dealership collected 25 deposits in the first two weeks. He also admitted the dealership had no inside knowledge when—or even if—the plug-in cars would be available to consumers.

Toyota so far has committed only to producing about 400 plug-in hybrid Priuses for fleet evaluation around 2010, while giving some indications that the cars will come sooner rather than later. By offering Priuses with additional battery storage capability, and the ability to put energy into those batteries via household electricity, Toyota could dramatically increase the fuel economy of the vehicle, which is already the most efficient car available on the mainstream market today.

Eric Doebert, business development manager for Magnussen’s, said, "There is no official word that we have as a dealer regarding exactly what is going to happen. We've heard different things, but nothing concrete. However, we are very confident that we'll have retail units in 2010.” Doebert said his dealership generally doesn't accept deposits so far in advance, but "so many people have expressed a sincere interest in getting the car" that the dealer decided it was time to start taking deposits. "It makes sense that people should get in line now in order to have a shot of even taking delivery in the first year that the vehicle is available," he said.

The current total number of plug-in hybrids on American roads is approximately one hundred—all of which resulted from conversions of standard no-plug hybrids into plug-in vehicles by small companies, advocacy groups, or manufacturers running test programs. In June, six Toyota dealerships throughout the country broke ranks with Toyota and announced services for Prius aftermarket conversions using battery and control systems provided by A123Systems' Hymotion.

Jack Fitzgerald, president of the Fitzgerald Auto Malls—one of the dealerships offering conversion services—said he would not be accepting advance deposits for factory-made plug-in Priuses. Fitzgerald wants to know the consumer price and introductory sales date before taking this step. His cautious approach does not reduce his enthusiasm for the technology. The company, which operates Toyota dealerships in Maryland, Florida, and Pennsylvania, has sold a half dozen plug-in hybrid conversions. Fitzgerald believes, as he told Hybridcars.com, that the “plug-in hybrid is one of the most important long-term solutions” to our country’s dependence on foreign oil.

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