Toyota to Test Plug-In Hybrids in Japan, U.S.

Toyota to Test Plug-In Hybrids in Japan, U.S.

Transportation researchers at U.C. Berkeley and U.C. Irvine will partner with Toyota to road test plug-in hybrid electric passenger cars, the universities and car maker announced this week.

U.C. Berkeley and U.C. Irvine researchers will each test a plug-in hybrid car, focusing on user behavioral response to the technology, such as recharging and refueling habits. They also will assess the cars for technical energy use, and environmental and economic considerations.

"Plug-in hybrid vehicles are a promising technology for reducing gasoline use along with emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases," said Timothy Lipman, a researcher at UC Berkeley's Institute of Transportation Studies, in a statement.

Lipman and Susan Shaheen will act as co-principle investigators leading the effort. The project is funded through a $750,000 grant from the Alternative Fuel Incentive Program of California Assembly Bill 1811. The Air Resources Board, California Energy Commission and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District also will participate.

Toyota will provide support engineering services while the Bay Area Air Quality Management District will help the air pollutant emission and air quality modeling efforts headed by U.C. Irvine and South Coast Air Quality Management District.

Toyota acknowledged in a statement that pure electric cars have a long way to go in terms of a limited cruise range and cost. Yet it continues viewing plug-in hybrid cars as a "promising technology for allowing electricity to serve as a viable power source for automobiles."

The plug-in electric hybrid prototype will operate like the current Toyota Prius, in that it switches from pure electric mode to gas-engine mode to a blended gas-electric mode. Increased battery capacity allows for a longer electric-only cruising range. A battery-charging device lets users replenish batteries with household electricity, such as at night when electricity costs less.

The design allows the vehicle to operate in gasoline-free, electric-only mode more often, such as short trips around town.

"The resulting fuel efficiency improvements mean lower CO2 emissions and less fossil fuel consumption and, therefore less pollution," Toyota said.

The company also plans to road test eight plug-in hybrids in Japan to verify electric-motor-only cruising ranges and optimal battery capacity. It also will supply the government with data for creating emissions and fuel efficiency testing methods.