Silicon Valley group promoting plug-in cars with Prius

June 15, 2010 4:54:40 PM PDT
A new kind of vehicle hit the streets of San Jose today -- one that combines a hybrid engine with plug-in battery power. The Bay Area is going to be the test track for this new generation of the Toyota Prius.

The Silicon Valley Leadership Group (SVLG), an association of regional businesses, delivered three next-generation plug-in hybrid Prius models to test them for 18 months and to help educate the public on the latest technology to wean drivers off gasoline vehicles.

Tom Werner, CEO at San Jose's Sunpower, which makes solar cells and panels, will get to drive one for six weeks.

"I have a 12-mile commute. It's got a 13-mile range. I'm thinking I'm not going to use any gas, so this is going to be way different. A predictable amount of distance you can go and not a lot of messing around," he said.

Werner is also the board president of SVLG, and has been challenging CEOs to embrace plug-in technology for the past two years.

The 13-mile range on battery might seem limited. Toyota says it's trying to listen to consumers who don't want to wait hours for a re-charge.

"We find that most people really don't want to wait more than about four or five hours, and that's one of the reasons it drove us to looking at a small battery application rather than a large battery," Mary Nickerson from Toyota Advance Tech Vehicles said.

Because of the smaller battery, the plug-in Prius weighs only 300 pounds more than the Prius hybrid.

Felix Kramer, a leading advocate of plug-in vehicles, says auto makers are finally jumping on board.

"We've actually said that they could be moving faster, and we wish they had been moving faster ever since we did the first conversion in 2004, but we're glad they're coming around and they want to do it right," he said.

Kramer is now on a campaign to convert older gas cars to plug-in technology.

While the Leadership Group is getting the first three plug-in hybrids, an additional delivery will be made soon to researchers at Cal.


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