Toyota Prius PHEV. Click image to enlarge
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Article and photos by Russell Purcell
Toyota Canada Prius PHEV test program
Vancouver, British Columbia – On Friday, Stephen Beatty, Toyota Canada’s Managing Director, handed over the keys to one of the five Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid (PHV) test vehicles that will be plying Canadian streets for the next year as part of the Japanese company’s global PHV test trial program.
Toyota Canada has partnered with fifteen trial partners in four provinces (B.C., Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec) in the first phase of the nationwide program. The partners, mostly government departments, educational institutions and energy companies, were carefully selected to help test the car’s new technology in real-world use for the next calendar year. Members of the test groups in each province will share one vehicle.
In British Columbia, the partners include the B.C. Institute of Technology (BCIT), BC Hydro, City of Vancouver, the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources and the University of Victoria’s Institute for Integrated Energy Systems.
The Prius PHV is based on the third-generation Prius Hybrid and shares many of its components – which is probably a good thing, as the Prius has gained a loyal following and is the number-one selling hybrid vehicle in the world. Under the hood of the Prius PHV you will find the venerable 1.8-litre Atkinson-cycle, four-cylinder gasoline engine and electric power train that comprise the company’s proven Hybrid Synergy Drive, however, the PHV utilizes a battery pack with a much larger capacity.
Toyota Prius PHEV. Click image to enlarge
Its new lithium-ion batteries enable all-electric operation at higher speeds and for longer distances than those in the conventional Prius Hybrid. Toyota’s literature claims the PHV has a range of 20 kilometres (13 miles) on electric power. That may sound short, but that’s with the car travelling at speeds up to 100 km/h on electric power alone. This means that the first portion of any full-charge trip will require little, if any gasoline, as the engine will only kick in to power subsidiary systems.
Keen observers will notice what looks like a second fuel flap on the front fender of the Prius PHV. Opening it reveals the receiver port for the charging unit which permits the user to juice-up the car’s battery packs from a typical 110-volt outlet. This is accomplished by using what is basically a three-prong extension cord fitted with an SAE-standardized connector plug for electric vehicles. It takes a mere 180 minutes at 100 volts, or an even more impressive 100 minutes at 200 volts (a 220-volt home charging station is in development).
Toyota Prius PHEV (top); Toyota Canada Managing Director, Stephen Beatty, left, hands the keys over to John Yap, B.C. Minister of State for Climate Action and Vancouver Deputy Mayor Ellen Woodsworth. Click image to enlarge
The big advantage of switching to lithium-ion batteries over the traditional nickel-metal hydride units is that the new batteries don’t require “conditioning” and don’t have a “memory” effect, so they can be charged at any time. Lithium-ion also has a higher energy density, and the new packs fitted to these test units have effectively quadrupled electrical energy output when compared to the battery pack of a typical Prius.
Despite the added weight of the larger batteries, performance and handling remain on par with the standard car, but fuel efficiency has improved significantly. The Prius PHV achieves a fuel consumption of just 1.75 litres per 100 kilometres (161 mpg Imperial) which is expected to reduce fuel consumption by 83 per cent and reduce CO2 emissions by almost four tonnes per year. The current Prius consumes 3.7 L/100 km (76 mpg) in city environments, and 4.0 L/100 km (71 mpg) on the highway.
The Prius PHV is expected to become available to the public in 2012.
B.C. Minister of State for Climate Action, John Yap, top, with Stephen Beatty; Vancouver Deputy Mayor Ellen Woodsworth. Click image to enlarge
All five test vehicles will be fitted with special telematics equipment to record vehicle and hybrid system performance for the duration of the test period. Using this feedback, engineers and product planners will be able to track “critical technical and consumer acceptance feedback of the Prius PHV, unique to the Canadian market.”
The main goal behind the project is to produce sustainable mobility, and in the case of the Prius, the addition of PHV technology helps transform it into an electric vehicle with a realistic operating range.
“We expect that coupling B.C.’s clean energy resources with the cutting edge technology of plug-in hybrids will lead to a real impact on lower greenhouse gas emissions in this province,” said John Yap, Minister of State for Climate Action.
The City of Vancouver is taking has been taking a leadership role when it comes to the environment, so it comes as no surprise that local officials and city planners were ready to embrace this test program.
“Vancouver is trying to be the greenest city in the world, so we ask that all new (home) developments have a plug-in. So we’re ready to go. We are just waiting for the Prius and other plug-in cars to come on the market,” said Vancouver Deputy Mayor, Ellen Woodsworth.
While other companies are working towards offering pure electric vehicles, the viability of these is likely to be hindered by what is called “range anxiety.” Unless you live in an urban centre like Vancouver or Toronto a pure EV makes little sense due to the lack of charging locations and the geographical distance between them. Cars like the Prius PHV, on the other hand, can offer excellent fuel efficiency and zero emission capabilities without the stress of worrying about whether you’ll make it to the next charging station.