A hybrid car which can be charged from a normal domestic electricity supply has been launched.
The Toyota Plug-In-Hybrid-Vehicle (PHV) is powered by a combination of a battery and a standard petrol engine.
On short journeys, the car uses electric power to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.
Previous hybrid vehicles, such as the Toyota Prius could not be charged from the grid – the battery was charged as the car drove along.
Toyota believes the new development marks an important milestone in the move towards cleaner motor technology.
Which? car editor Richard Headland said:’We’re fans of the normal Prius hybrid, although it can’t run on battery power for long before the petrol engine kicks in.
‘The plug-in charge should help to boost economy on shorter journeys – but it will make no odds if you do most of your driving on the motorway.’
Initial tests on the new vehicle will take place over the coming year, with 50 employees of the energy company EDF using the PHV for journeys in the Greater London area.
Tests on the car in France suggest that for journeys up to 25 kilometres, its fuel efficiency is around 60% better than that of the standard Prius.
The PHV has a maximum range of 10 kilometres (six miles) in electric mode, after which it switches to standard hybrid mode with the battery charging as the car moves.
The car can be charged either from a standard household electrical point or at specially designed charging posts, 40 of which have already been installed in the UK by EDF Energy.
The PHV’s top speed in electric mode, 100 km/h (about 60mph), may not set pulses racing, but it marks a significant step up on the Prius, which could only manage around 40 km/h (about 24mph) when running on battery power.
Koei Saga, the head of hybrid development at Toyota, said he hoped the tests with the EDF employees would provide data on the car’s emissions and performance in a real-life situation, as well as information on British driving habits.
Toyota is now working on new battery technology to extend the car’s quite limited range in electric mode.
In June Toyota set up a team to work on creating batteries that could charge more quickly – present charge time is around two hours – and run for greater distances.
No date has been set for the commercial release of the PHV, nor has a showroom price been calculated.
Peter Hofman, from EDF Energy, said the company was still considering the best way to charge customers for electricity they used to charge their PHV.
One option was to offer a lower tariff at night, so drivers could charge their battery more cheaply while they were in bed, he said.
A dashboard display would allow the driver to check both the level of charge in the battery and how much they were being charged on their account.