Can a plug beat the Toyota Prius?

The Toyota Prius versus the Toyota plug-in Prius versus other plug-in hybrid and electric cars.

Is it worth to plug-in the Prius?

Is a plug-in Prius the better Prius?

Everybody has an opinion. Thus, when it comes to calling any consumer product the best, it's usually easiest just to let the numbers do the talking.

Hence, in terms of hybrid cars and fuel economy in the US, for instance, the Toyota Prius easily stands out as the best. Certainly, the Prius isn't the favorite pick of many hybrid buyers; however, in terms of overall sale's numbers, the Prius simply squashes the competition.

But can a plug change that?

In a very interesting plug-in Toyota Prius review this morning, InsideLine calls the Toyota Prius the “best version of tomorrow's electric vehicle.”

Obviously, GM and Nissan, for instance, would disagree.

Nissan might claim that it's electric cars offer more than enough range for most commutes, while GM might claim that not only does their range extended plug-in offer enough range for most commutes, but can be extended with gasoline for those weekend trips and longer commutes.

And both would largely be correct, yet I'd have to agree with Edmunds that the plug-in Prius will still probably be the best.

According to much research, many commutes – such as the trips to the market, the mall, to drop off and pick up the kids, etc. are just 5 – 10 miles, and such commutes make up a large part of the daily grind. At such distances, the 14 miles of EV range provided by the plug-in Toyota Prius is enough.

But isn't more EV range better?

Only if cost-effectiveness doesn't matter, and consumer study after consumer study coupled with a vast amount of battery research indicates that small-battery plug-in vehicles offer the most cost-effective plug-in solution for the greatest number of potential consumers. I assume Edmunds knows this, and it's why I agree with Edmunds that a plug-in Toyota Prius is probably the smartest execution of plug-in technology until either a major battery breakthrough or dynamic charging is achieved.

Regardless, will that make the plug-in Prius more popular than a conventional Prius?

Edmunds claims the plug-in version of the Prius will probably cost about $4,000 more than a conventional Prius. Already, most new car buyers find the Prius to be too expensive, so I doubt many non-hybrid buyers would consider the upgrade. For current Prius buyers, on the other hand, I'd bet an extra $4,000 would be compelling, but I'm not sure it would entice a majority of current Prius buyers to plug-in.

But is all that irrelevant anyway?

According to a number of automakers and auto analysts, some form of battery-powered vehicle could achieve as much as 20 – 25 percent new car sale's penetration by 2020, with most buyers choosing conventional hybrids over any sort of plug-in vehicle. Thus, it appears that the lack of a plug isn't deterring consumers from going hybrid, it's simply upfront costs.

In order for hybrid cars, or any other battery-powered vehicle, to achieve such a high level of penetration, it appears costs will have to come down, and since plug-in costs are going to continue to provide sticker shock for most consumers for some time – not to mention the inability or desire to plug-in – it seems hard to believe that a plug-in vehicle, even a plug-in Prius, is going to knock the Prius off its perch as the best selling alternative vehicle for a very long time.


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