Brussels, Belgium – Toyota Motor Europe will lease over 150 of its experimental plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV) to select fleet customers across Europe, as a critical next step towards commercialization.

France will be the first country to participate in the three-year pilot project, with discussions ongoing in the U.K., Germany and the Netherlands. Based on Toyota’s full hybrid technology, the new PHEV will come equipped with lithium-ion batteries, extending the vehicle’s range in electric mode. The first wave of vehicles will reach Strasbourg in late 2009.

“In the future, the PHEV will be the perfect complement to Prius,” said Tadashi Arashima, president and CEO of Toyota Motor Europe. “It offers a low carbon transport solution for customers wanting to drive longer distances using electricity, while still experiencing the traditional benefits of a full hybrid. There is no better time to put our new PHEV through its paces. We have to assess its performance in a variety of markets with different infrastructure constraints, driving conditions and customer expectations.”

Toyota has been road-testing a PHEV equipped with a nickel metal hydride battery in Europe since 2007. Part of the Strasbourg-based PHEV fleet will come equipped with an innovative charging system that ensures safe charging, communication between the plug and the vehicle, identification of the vehicle, and automatic invoicing of electricity. A large number of charging points will also be established in users’ homes, the offices of business partners, in public parking lots, and on public roads.

Toyota said it will deploy over 500 new PHEVs globally by 2010, including in Europe, Japan and the U.S.

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