Car sharing services offer people a convenient way to rent a car only when they need it, and Toyota believes they might also give it a good way to evaluate plug-in hybrid vehicle technology. With the desire to see how the hybrids fit into a large-scale car sharing model, Zipcar and Toyota are introducing eight Prius Plug-in Hybrids to the car sharing company’s fleets in Boston, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon.
The eight Prius plug-ins heading into Zipcar fleet service are part of the automaker’s early test fleet, some 160 plug-ins being tested around the U.S. This testing program is designed to give consumers an early look at plug-in vehicle technology as well as to provide Toyota with customers’ reactions and suggestions. Toyota has already sent a number of Prius plug-ins to New York City as part of this program.
Partnering with Zipcar, however, will give more consumers a chance to sample the plug-in hybrid vehicle, as the NYC vehicles went to the Department of Transportation and are limited to DOT employees. The vehicles given to Zipcar will be available for anyone in Boston, San Francisco, or Portland to drive so long as they can get their hands on the keys. Boston and San Francisco will receive three each while Portland will get two.
Allowing more people to get behind the wheel of these demonstration vehicles gives Toyota the opportunity to gather more real-world data before the car launches in 2012. This allows for subtle tweaks to be made to programming and tuning before series production begins.
When the plug-in Prius launches, it will be Toyota’s first model to use lithium-ion batteries and will be the third model in the Prius lineup. Toyota still hasn’t disclosed just how large the lithium-ion battery pack in the Prius plug-in hybrid is, but says it can power the car for up to 13 miles before it’s depleted. After that, the plug-in operates like a standard Prius. According to Toyota, the Prius plug-in will average around 65 mpg, but we’ve heard reports of around 70 mpg without even breaking a sweat.