Toyota Sees Plug-In Prius Exceeding Volt’s Fuel Efficiency

Toyota Motor Corp. (7203) expects its rechargeable Prius, capable of going 15 miles on electricity alone, to get a higher fuel-economy rating than General Motors Co. (GM)’s Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid.

Toyota now sees its plug-in Prius getting a U.S. rating of 50 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving running solely as a hybrid, and 95 mpg-equivalent when its lithium-ion battery pack is frequently charged. Volt, which can go more than 30 miles on a charge, is rated at 37 mpg after that and 94 mpg-e when drivers mainly rely on battery power.

“It’s still an estimate, but we are confident it’s going to be 95,” Bob Carter, group vice president of Toyota’s U.S. sales unit, told reporters in La Jolla, California, yesterday. An official rating by the Environmental Protection Agency will come “in a couple weeks,” with deliveries starting in March, he said.

Toyota is targeting a record 220,000 U.S. sales this year for its four-vehicle Prius line that includes the original hatchback, Prius v wagon, Prius c subcompact and the plug-in. GM, with its Chevrolet Volt, and Nissan Motor Co. with its all- electric Leaf, aim to surpass Toyota as the industry’s largest seller of autos propelled by advanced powertrains.

In September 2011, Toyota estimated the plug-in Prius would average 49 mpg when driven only as a hybrid, and 87 mpg-e combining frequent battery pack charging. Toyota’s standard Prius is rated at 50 mpg.

The improved estimate arose from further testing of its battery pack and additional “control programs” newly developed for the plug-in model, Satoshi Ogiso, chief engineer for Toyota’s Prius models, told reporters yesterday in La Jolla.

Short-Lived Bragging Rights

Bragging rights for Toyota may be short-lived. Ford Motor Co. (F) has said that starting late this year it will sell a plug-in version of its redesigned Fusion sedan that the company expects to get a 100 mpg-e rating from regulators.

Nissan’s Leaf is rated by the U.S. at 99 mpg-e, using no gasoline. It averages about 70 miles of range before requiring a recharge. The Leaf starts at $35,200, according to a company website, and it is eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit.

The base model plug-in Prius will cost about $32,000, before a $2,500 federal tax credit. The Volt starts at $39,145, and qualifies for a $7,500 credit because of its larger battery.

Regardless of the U.S. rating for the plug-in Prius, Volt offers better efficiency in day-to-day use, said Rob Peterson, a spokesman for Detroit-based GM.

‘Real-World Conditions’

“The big difference here is in real-world conditions,” Peterson said yesterday in a phone interview. “The Volt’s ability to go all-electric at all speeds for 25 to 50 miles allows most drivers to commute on electricity only.”

While the plug-in Prius’s electric-only mode has a top speed of 62 mph, the Volt’s top all-electric speed is 100 mph. “At any point in time that a Prius driver exceeds 62 miles per hour, their gas engine goes on,” he said.

Volt drivers are filling up with gas about once a month, Peterson said.

Toyota plans to sell 15,000 units of its plug-in car this year, while GM wants to deliver 45,000 to U.S. customers.

Toyota’s American depositary receipts rose 2.3 percent to $75.20 at the close in New York. The U.S. sales unit for Toyota City, Japan-based Toyota is in Torrance, California.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alan Ohnsman in Los Angeles, California, at aohnsman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jamie Butters at jbutters@bloomberg.net

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