Toyota has confirmed that the first 500 Prius Plug-In Hybrids will be introduced to selected global markets from this month.
The green crusader made its official North American debut at the 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show today with the Japanese company describing the limited rollout as “a necessary first step” to educate drivers and consumers about plug-in technology.
The US will get 150 vehicles in 2010 while Europe and Japan will begin receiving their cut of the remaining 350 within weeks.
Toyota US said the program will allow it to gather real real-world vehicle-use feedback to better understand customer expectations of plug-in technology.
“On the technical side, the program aims to confirm, in a wide variety of real-world applications, the overall performance of first-generation lithium-ion battery technology, while spurring development of public-access charging station infrastructure.”
It said the cars would be distributed in regional clusters in New York, California, Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania and Oregon.
Unlike the standard Prius with its nickel-metal-hydride battery pack, the Prius Plug-In Hybrid uses a lithium-ion pack with more energy capacity: around 4 kilowatt-hours compared to the standard pack’s 1.6 kWh.
This means the Plug-In can run at higher speeds and for longer distances than the standard Prius.
Toyota claims the Plug-In can operate in electric-only mode at speeds up to 100km/h and for more than 20km, which is more than 40km less than the Chevrolet Volt.
In July, Japan’s Nikkei news agency reported that Toyota plans to mass produce the Plug-In from 2012 with a starting price of more than $50,000 – again almost $10,000 more expensive than the Volt which will be launched in just under a year.