Toyota’s previous comments with respect to the whole plug-in hybrid movement have bordered on hostile. The company, no surprise, has tried to downplay the potential by pointing to technical challenges, criticizing Prius hackers, and claiming that car owners don’t want to be burdened with having to plug their car into an electrical socket. But public pressure seems to have Toyota singing a different tune these days, making it the latest (and arguably most important) big car manufacturer to reveal that, yes, it’s working on plug-in hybrids behind the scenes. Perhaps it’s because George W. Bush himself is a supporter of the plug-in hybrid concept, or the fact that U.S. legislators seem intent on driving more funding toward the plug-in hybrid and flex-fuel options. It might also be because Ford and Daimler Chrysler are getting behind the plug-in concept and Toyota doesn’t want to lose its edge in the U.S. market.
On June 13 Toyota issued this release outlining its improved efforts to create environmentally sound and sustainable vehicles. Among a list of impressive initiatives under way, Toyoto Motor Corp. (TMC) made the following statement: “TMC will advance its research and development of plug-in hybrid vehicles (which can be charged from an external power source and provide electricity) and is currently working on a next-generation vehicle that can extend the distance traveled by the electric motor alone and that is expected to have a significant effect on reducing C02 and helping to abate atmospheric pollution.”
Whether this is open acknowledgement of a serious R&D program that will lead to commercialization of plug-in hybrids, or simply a marketing stunt to appease the plug-in hybrid movement, who knows… I think Toyota, like other car manufacturers, realize that some huge advancements in battery technology are just around the corner and could soon unlock the potential of plug-in hybrids and EVs in general.