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Toyota Prius at GM Advanced Technology Vehicles

This is no "scoop", I'm sure, but I thought the observation strikes an interesting note. Doug Brinkman, a friend of mine, was driving in Torrance, California, a couple of days ago, and he spotted a number of electric-vehicle recharging stations with a car parked at them that he didn't recognize. The location turned out to be the public recharging site at the General Motors Advanced Technology Vehicles facility colocated with Hughes, and the vehicle was a Toyota Prius. This is the first one I've seen "in the wild", not at an auto show.

Toyota Prius at GM ATV

The green car parked on the right is the Prius; that's my natural-gas-powered van between the two EV1's (a red one is just visible to the left), parked there for scale. It's very bad manners for an internal-combustion vehicle to block a parking space intended for charging an electric vehicle, so don't worry, I pulled out immediately after I shot the photo! The funny thing is, the Prius (pronounced PREE-us, not PRY-us, by the way) doesn't need to be parked there either.

Rear of Toyota Prius

As you can see from the label on the left of the trunk lid, the Prius is a hybrid electric vehicle: it charges its batteries from part of the output of a small, efficient onboard internal-combustion engine, and therefore does not need to have an external charging port like a battery-electric vehicle. The Prius has been for sale since late 1997 in Japan; they couldn't keep up with demand, either, since gasoline there costs something like four bucks a gallon and the car's efficient drivetrain results in about 66 miles per gallon fuel economy on the Japanese urban test cycle! With some tweaks for increased efficiency under the rather different driving conditions in the U.S., Toyota is planning to sell the Prius here starting next year.

This car is, as far as I can tell, straight from the Japanese production runs; it is right-hand drive, and the little oval bumper sticker says "Tokyo Toyota". So why does it have Michigan manufacturer's plates on it, and why is it parked at a GM facility? Well, as I said, I'm sure this is not a "scoop" by Your Correspondent; Toyota and GM have been cooperating in the manufacture of regular cars for years now, such that the Chevrolet Prizm (formerly Geo) and the Toyota Corolla are "sisters under the skin" (built at the same factory in California), and several months ago the two companies announced that they would be increasing their cooperation on advanced transportation as well. This includes joint development of inductive vehicle-recharging technology, for starters; I have heard speculation that the Prius might also be rebadged as a Chevrolet, though GM has also demonstrated working prototypes of their own hybrid and other advanced designs based on the EV1 platform.

Anyway, I just thought this was an interesting little illustration of the cooperation on advanced transportation between these two automaking giants! Honda will be beating the Prius to the market by almost a year, though, with their Insight hybrid-electric vehicle, due in December 1999. One funny thing about that is that the Insight is a two-seater, whereas the Prius seats four (or five--I didn't count seatbelts); the reason this is funny is that when Honda introduced their EV Plus battery-electric four-seater car, they "dissed" the EV1 for having only two seats...

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new 31 August 1999