It's no mystery why plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) are so desired by consumers. The ability to drive on electric power only for extended periods is attractive to many, especially considering that such zero-emission motoring can be done for pennies per mile. Plus, even on longer drives where the internal combustion engine is needed after battery-only range is exceeded, overall fuel economy could be well over 100 mpg. High gas prices and a growing concern about dependence on imported oil will only make this desire stronger over time.
Today's heightened, almost beyond-passionate interest in plug-ins is creating a general craziness that's difficult to comprehend. Yes, we all want a PHEV once they come to fruition. Who wouldn't? The plug-in Chevy Volt is on its way to production and several other automakers, including Toyota with its Prius, are aiming to develop commercially viable PHEVs. But so far, GM is the only one that has said it is definitely producing such a model and identified a timetable for introduction.
This is why the news that a few Toyota dealers were taking deposits for a Prius PHEV is so ... bizarre. The situation: Following a Northern California newspaper article about the Prius plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEV), inquiries came in to some California Toyota dealers about purchasing one of the hoped-for - but as yet unconfirmed - consumer models. At least two California dealers decided to take deposits on a Prius PHEV, Magnussen's Toyota in Palo Alto and Toyota of San Luis Obispo.
The problem? No such consumer model has been confirmed by Toyota. While the automaker is testing Prius PHEVs and these tests will expand to a greater number of fleets and government agencies, in Toyota's view lithium-ion battery costs must come down substantially to make the Prius PHEV a commercial reality. This could change if substantial government incentives are brought to bear or a battery leasing strategy is worked out with electric utilities, but that's the reality now. It is an interesting phenomenon that dealers would even consider taking deposits for a vehicle that may, or may not, actually be sold to consumers in the future.
Toyota posted an open blog on the subject at http://blog.toyota.com/2008/08/the-plug-in-pri.html. Here, Toyota group vice president Irv Miller notes that while the company is excited about the Prius PHEV and will be placing several hundred in fleet tests in 2009, there is no timetable for commercial introduction. The result? Dealers have been asked not to take deposits.
Magnussen's Toyota in Palo Alto has refunded its $500 deposits and is instead taking names on a waiting list. Toyota of San Luis Obispo has advised those who made deposits that a production or sales date has not been identified for the Prius PHEV and offered to refund deposits. Some did take their deposits back but others preferred to leave their $500 deposits in place to stay in the queue for the hoped-for model, Toyota of San Luis Obispo advised GreenCar.com. The dealership notes that customers already are making deposits toward the purchase of the all-new 2010 Toyota Prius, so a Prius PHEV deposit doesn't seem out of the ordinary.