Toyota says it has developed a plug-in hybrid vehicle which is ready for public road tests in Japan.
The Japanese car firm is also planning to test the cars in the US and Europe.
Plug-in hybrids, whose batteries can be recharged via a standard wall socket, are also being developed by other major car makers, such as General Motors and Ford.
Like most hybrids now on sale, which are powered by electric motors and petrol engines, the new model – called Toyota Plug-in HV – also gets recharged by converting energy from braking and when the wheels spin. But the advantage of the plug-in variety is that it runs longer on electricity than regular hybrids.
Toyota is the first manufacturer to receive government approval to conduct tests for a plug-in hybrid on Japanese public roads, it said, and will collect information about the tests from eight plug-in vehicles for the government about emissions and fuel efficiency.
Masatami Takimoto, the Toyota executive in charge of technology, declined to say when Toyota will bring a plug-in hybrid to market. Innovation in battery technology is needed, he said.
The Plug-in HV runs on the same nickel metal hydride battery as the carmaker’s current Prius model and has a cruising range of eight miles on just electricity. Takimoto said tests will help in deciding the range consumers want. The more common hybrids such as the Prius have a cruising range of just 1.9 miles as an electric vehicle, according to Toyota.
The maximum speed of Plug-in HV is 62mph as an electric vehicle. The batteries require about 1.5 hours to recharge at 200 volts and three or four hours at 100 volts, and the company recommends recharging overnight when power costs are cheaper in Japan.
Mass production of plug-ins is so far being held back by costs and battery technology that limit the vehicles’ range.
Which? Senior Researcher George Marshall-Thornhill said: ‘These cars may use less petrol than conventional cars, but they only emit less pollution if the source of electricity is entirely renewable – pretty rare in most parts of the world.
‘As this model is a prototype we await to see any production developments with interest.’
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