Green

Toyota bets big on hybrids, no pure electric car in sight

Toyota has unveiled a new line-up of hybrid electric Prius cars designed to attract more mainstream buyers to the fuel-efficient cars. The new models include a hatchback Prius v and a cheaper compact hybrid-electric car called the Prius c.

But nowhere in that line-up is an electric car that is only powered by a battery. Other car companies like Tesla Motors and Nissan have made bets that environmentally conscious car buyers will want to abandon their reliance on gasoline — which has rapidly risen above the $4-per-gallon mark. Companies like Toyota and Fisker Automotive are betting that car buyers will want better fuel efficiency but will still want a lower price tag and a larger range than what pure electric cars can offer.

The cost of electric cars isn’t the most important criteria potential buyers look at, according to a report by Accenture. The Nissan Leaf costs $32,780 while the Tesla Roadster, a more sporty plug-in electric car, costs around $109,000 — both of which are significantly more expensive than the Toyota Prius. Most buyers were concerned, instead, about the range of the cars — the Nissan Leaf can only travel around 100 miles before it needs to recharge, and the Tesla Roadster can travel around 200 miles.

After running dry, the electric car batteries also take a long time to recharge. They can take anywhere from 2 to 5 hours to completely recharge a dry electric battery. Most Leaf owners drove an average of 7 miles per trip and spent about 2 hours charging the car with a 220-volt charger, according to information released about Leaf drivers by Nissan. Hybrid-electric vehicles still only take a few minutes to fill up a gas tank — so they are more convenient and can drive further than pure electric cars.

The closest thing to a pure plug-in electric car like the Nissan Leaf and the Tesla Roadster on Toyota’s plate is a plug-in hybrid electric car similar to General Motors’ Chevy Volt. That car will travel around 13 miles on an electric battery and then shift to an internal combustion engine to extend the range of the car. GM’s Volt can travel anywhere from 25 to 40 miles before the internal combustion engine kicks in to extend the car’s range.

The Prius c should attract more mainstream car buyers with a low-hanging price tag, compared to the Prius’ existing $23,520 price tag. The Prius v hatchback is geared toward a different section of the car-buying audience that needs additional space for storage, because it has around 50 percent more trunk space than the existing Prius hybrid-electric car. Both should have equivalent or better gas mileage than the existing Prius, which gets around 50 miles per gallon of gasoline. The Prius v has a reported fuel efficiency of 42 miles per gallon, while no details are available about the Prius c’s fuel efficiency.

Toyota previously tried selling a line of electric cars — the Toyota RAV4 EV — but discontinued that line in 2003. The company began working with Tesla Motors last year to develop a second generation of the RAV4, which should enter mass production sometime next year. But there is still no word on when that car will be available to buyers, or what kind of price tag it will carry. Around 1,500 first-generation RAV4 cars were sold or leased in California.

[Update: A few readers pointed out that Toyota is working with Tesla Motors to manufacture a pure electric version of the RAV4. We've added information about that car, though there is still no exact date for when that car will be available.]