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Toyota plug-in hybrid hits the road

Carmaker wins approval to test new model in Japan

Toyota says its Plug-in HV will run significantly longer on electricity than current models. Toyota says its Plug-in HV will run significantly longer on electricity than current models. (Yuriko Nakao/Reuters)

TOKYO -- Toyota, which dominates the hybrid-vehicle market with more than a million sold over the past decade, has developed a new type that plugs into a home socket for a longer ride as an electric car -- raising the stakes in the plug-in race.

The Toyota Plug-in HV received government approval yesterday to run on public roads for tests, the first time a manufacturer has received such certification in Japan, Toyota Motor Corp. said. Toyota plans tests for the United States and Europe.

General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. are among the Toyota rivals also developing plug-in hybrids.

Like most hybrids now on sale, the new Toyota also recharges by converting energy from braking and the spinning wheels. But the plug-in runs longer on electricity than current models.

It is widely thought that hybrid vehicles, which are powered by electric motors and gasoline engines, can help reduce global warming because they have better mileage than comparable vehicles powered only by gas engines.

Masatami Takimoto, the Toyota executive in charge of technology, declined to say when Toyota will bring a plug-in hybrid to market. Innovation in battery technology is needed, he said.

"We still need some time," he said.

The Plug-in HV displayed yesterday runs on the same nickel metal hydride battery as the Prius and has a cruising range of 8 miles on electricity. The maximum speed of Plug-in HV as an electric vehicle is 62 miles an hour. The batteries require about 1.5 hours to recharge at 200 volts and three or four hours at 100 volts. The more common hybrids such as Toyota's Prius have a cruising range of 1.9 miles as an electric vehicle, according to Toyota.

General Motors is developing the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, and says it hopes its plug-ins can reach showrooms by 2010. Earlier this month, Ford announced a partnership with Southern California Edison to test rechargeable hybrid vehicles and hasten mass production of plug-in hybrids.