Plug-In Hybrids on the Way

A year and a half ago, the Minnesota Legislature passed a bill requiring the state government to buy plug-in electric hybrid cars should they ever come on the market at reasonable prices. (Plug-in Electric Hybrid (PEV) cars are just like regular hybrid cars, only they don't need the gasoline engine to operate, effectively making them 100+ m.p.g. vehicles that, given clean electricity sources, make them the greenest cars around.) At the time, the idea that we'd have 100+ m.p.g. cars available on the market seemed like a science fiction fantasy, but the NY Times had an article today about how close these cars are to production.

On Sunday night, Toyota, the world’s largest producer of hybrid-electric vehicles, announced it would produce a plug-in hybrid vehicle equipped with a lithium-ion battery by 2010, for sale first to big commercial customers like corporations and government fleets.

Toyota’s best-selling hybrid, the Prius, runs on nickel-metal hydride batteries. Lithium-ion batteries, like those used to power digital cameras and other small electronic devices, can potentially hold a longer charge than nickel-metal hydride versions, but they are also more expensive.

The Volt is set to run on lithium-ion batteries. Last fall, G.M. announced that it would build the Volt in its assembly plant in Detroit in 2010, although executives have said production might start after that.


It's exciting, and makes the Minnesota Bill requiring the state gov't to purchase competitively priced PEVs, sponsored by Rep. Frank Hornstien (DFL-Minneapolis), look rather brilliant. As the 2002 Iraq War Resolution proves, It's always easier to pass bills through government when they're 'hypothetical' and the consequences are only possibilities. Its far harder to pass bills when the financial and political impact is a near certainty. Hornstein had little trouble getting Republicans in the State Legislature to agree to this bill when these cars were only a (tail)pipe dream, but it seems we'll have PEV Toyotas or Chevys on the road in a matter of a few years... certainly far sooner than we'll have a Light Rail line running down University Avenue.

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