Is 12 miles enough?

Earlier this week, various reports surfaced detailing Toyota’s plans to release the 2010 Prius as PHEV, but only to fleet customers. The range? A shade over 12 miles (20 km).

While it’s good to see Toyota going towards a Plug in Prius, it’s a little frustrating to see a small PHEV range when compared to the commercial and DIY conversion options out there for the current Prius. It’s also a little frustrating to see that Toyota only plans to sell the PHEV prius to fleets rather than individuals. Is that the right choice? And is 12 miles EV only range enough?

Is the 2010 PHEV prius going to be a hit with the fleet market?
Is the 2010 PHEV prius going to be a hit with the fleet market?

Photo by Swimfinfan, reproduced under creative commons license.

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? It’s brilliant that Toyota have finally announced that they will produce another plug in vehicle. It’s obviously a shame that that vehicle isn’t a full-EV like the much lamented RAV4EV, but I guess it’s a step forwards from the “You never have to plug it in” mentality that the Prius brand has been plagued by for the last ten years. A plug is better than no plug.

But hang on, let’s examine that 12 mile range again. Unless the world suddenly produces electric charging points at every shopping center, office car park and mini mall then most people will struggle to survive a day with a 12 mile range. Those of us with converted 2004-2009 Model Prius know that ideally an EV only range of between 15 and 20 miles is the minimum for really ultra-high fuel economy and ‘most of the time’ EV only motoring around town. My own, cheaply converted PHEV project only gets between 12 and 15 miles on a charge in EV only mode. There is rarely a day when I don’t wish for a better range. Sure, plug is better than no plug, but a small range under 20 miles can really impact on a usual day’s fuel-efficient driving after those magic 20 miles are up.

There’s no mention of cost to produce or fleet sell on the 2010 PHEV Prius, but I assume that the cost savings of having a small PHEV pack will make it more affordable to the fleet market. That may be a good thing. After all, fleet managers are always looking for ways to save money, both on car purchase and on fuel costs. A fleet market seems like a good place to test the 2010 PHEV.

But woah! Hang on a second!

Fleet car drivers are notorious for treating their cars badly. They drive them hard and fast, never really taking into consideration the health of the car. It’s a comapny car – so that’s okay. Can a plug in vehicle be treated badly? If experience with fleet EVs and PHEVs in the past shows, they either get completely trashed by drivers who won’t or don’t know how to look after them, or treated so roughly in driving that fuel economy flies out the window with everything else.

Give the 2010 PHEV models to the public. Let them help you decide on what battery pack to use, Toyota. Let them figure out what the bad and good points are of owning a PHEV. Don’t give them to an unrealistic test fleet.

In the meantime, perhaps the best way to owning a PHEV prius is to find a used 2004-2009 and do your own. At anything from 15-30 mile EV only range certainly all of the current PHEV conversion options, combined with a decently priced second hand Prius, could work out cheaper than a new 2010 model only fleet owners can get. Toyota only need improve the range of their factory 2010 PHEV prius by ten miles for it to suddenly seem a much more realistic proposition for anyone wanting to buy one. Until that day, I’m going to stick with my converted one. At 92.5 miles per gallon my car is doing pretty well with a simple DIY conversion.

C’mon Toyota. Let’s make the 2010 PHEV available to everyone. And let’s bring the range up a little, eh?