Yahoo Autos
Please enable Javascript

Javascript needs to be enabled in your browser to use Yahoo Autos.

Here’s how to turn it on:

Prius Plug-In Ready to Charge

Prius Plug-In Ready to Charge

Chris Paine’s 2006 documentary famously asked, Who Killed The Electric Car? Well, if it died, now it’s baa-ack. Interest from both sides of the political spectrum whether from those concerned about global warning or others eager to reduce our dependency on foreign oil are helping generate new levels of enthusiasm for a form of transportation that actually outsold all other vehicles in America back in 1900, thanks to a quiet, odorless ride that eclipsed its smelly gas- and horse-powered competitors.

In this latest electric-car gambit for consumers’ hearts and wallets, Chevrolet’s Volt and Nissan’s Leaf have broken away early, promising triple-digit range on a single overnight charge. They join existing e-car flag-bearers such as the Tesla Roadster, a two-seat, Lotus-inspired pocket rocket (zero to 60 mph in a neck-snapping 3.9 seconds) that will soon be joined by a four-door sedan. That so-called Model S will compete for attention from eco-conscious families with Fisker’s Karma, which is just now being delivered to Leonardo diCaprio, Al Gore, and other greens of means. BMW is running around with the Mini E, though its mere 500 examples are in private hands for testing purposes. And now Toyota is entering the fray, not surprising given that the Japanese automaker can take credit for legitimizing the alt-fuel segment with the unveiling of its boxy-but-loved Prius sedan more than a decade ago.

The Prius Plug-In Hybrid (say, Prius PHV) will be available to consumers in 2012, but 150 powder-blue pre-production models are scurrying about the U.S. now so the company can get a better read on whether the car will be a hit in its current iteration and price point. So far, suggested retail is hovering around $33,000, considerably higher than the mid-$20,000 range that tends to lure in buyers of smaller cars. But there are advantages inherent to this new model. Packing a much bigger and heavier lithium-ion battery in its trunk, the Prius PHV is able boost mileage (to around 70 mpg) for freeway cruisers with a light gas pedal touch, as well as scoot about in electric-only mode for up to 13 miles. Toyota reports that the PHV can recharge its batteries in three hours on a standard 110-volt jack, and twice as fast with a 220.

And just where will folks be recharging? That’s a linchpin issue in our 21st-century flirtation with electric vehicles. The Obama Administration would like to see 1 million such cars on the road by 2015, so it stands to reason that these consumers will need convenient places to recharge their metal steeds. At present, the biggest push to dot the country with these stations is called ChargePoint America, a $37-million initiative from Campbell, Calif.-based Coulomb Technologies, which received nearly half of its funds from the 2009 stimulus package. Partnering with car companies such GM, Ford and SmartUSA, Coulomb is presently looking to set up thousands of electric car fill-up points in nine cities: San Francisco-San Jose, Bellevue-Redmond, Sacramento, Washington, D.C., Detroit, Los Angeles, Austin, New York and Orlando.

With these overgrown electric sockets fast dotting our landscape, it seems the electric car may have a fighting chance at regaining a stature it enjoyed 111 years ago.