Will Prius Plug-in Owners View the Plug As Optional?

By · April 27, 2012

Toyota Prius Plug-in

The Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid went on sale in the past few weeks, without the fanfare that usually accompanies rollouts of new plug-ins. As I reported for KQED, Toyota hasn’t made a big deal of the plug-in Prius, because the company sees it as an extension of its hybrid offerings—rather than something novel. In other words, the PIP is a hybrid first and a plug-in second.

I suspect we will start to see mainstream media review of the model—and we can expect the standard and simple ROI comparison of a Prius Plug-in starting at $32,000 and the $25,565 comparably equipped standard Prius. Consumer Reports says the Prius Plug-in "benefits from the same comfortable ride and relatively spacious interior" as the standard Toyota Prius.

The Toyota Prius Plug-in features 11 miles or so of electric-only range, but can fire up its internal combustion engine to supplement the electric motor at any time the load requires. Consumer Reports nudged the Prius Plug-in up to 60 miles per hour without the gas engine firing up, but this act requires an extremely light touch on the accelerator pedal.

When I drove the Prius Plug-in Hybrid last year, I was a bit annoyed by how often the engine came on—but the results for many drivers is fuel efficiency around the 100-MPG mark, which is impressive. But this obviously requires plugging-in as often as possible. Erica Gartsbeyn, Toyota’s Prius Product marketing manager, told me earlier this week that surprisingly some PIP buyers might not even bother to plug in. Some California buyers went with the plug-in version of the Prius strictly to get into the carpool lane as a solo driver—not allowable for conventional hybrids anymore—and are satisfied to get about 50-mpg without using the extra battery pack designed for plug-in purposes.

It seems crazy to me that a PIP owner wouldn’t bother to plug-in, especially because it’s so easy—three hours at a 110v plug can fully charge the pack. But considering how efficient the car is when running on gasoline, you have to wonder how many hybrid-oriented Prius owners will think of plugging in as a nice-to-have optional capability (when it's super easy), but not essential to getting the benefits from the vehicle.

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