Technology award

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Technology award
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What Car? Staff
22 Jul 2008 16:30

Toyota for plug-in hybrids
After starting the revolution in 1999 with the launch of the petrol-electric Prius hybrid, Toyota hasn't rested on its green laurels.

As far-sighted and innovative as ever, it is now at the forefront of the next generation of technologies that are set to cut emissions and change the face of motoring.

What Car?'s panel of experts has highlighted plug-in hybrids as the most exciting new technology in motoring, and it should be no surprise that Toyota is once again leading the way in this field.

Plug-in hybrids work by taking charge from mains electricity and storing that power in battery packs. While plug-in cars also have a traditional petrol or diesel engine, the battery power can either be used to solely power the car over short distances, or to reduce the car's fuel consumption over longer distances.

The benefits are simple: the car uses no fossil fuel while running on battery power and, if the battery is charged from nuclear or renewable energy sources, then the carbon dioxide output of creating that energy is greatly reduced.

Costs are much lower, too, with the electricity used to power prototype cars estimated to be a quarter of the price of the equivalent amount of fuel.

Although car manufacturers are notoriously coy about disclosing plans, Toyota has been bolder and braver than most, announcing its intent to have a plug-in Prius on sale in Europe, America and Japan by 2010.

So far only General Motors, with its Chevrolet Volt and Saturn Vue plug-ins, has committed to challenge Toyota's on-sale date, and the battle between them to be the first into production is as intriguing as the technology itself.

At present, battery technology is the stumbling block. Creating a battery that can hold enough charge to power a car for about 50 miles on electricity alone - without overheating and which won't need to be replaced for at least 15 years - is proving extremely tough.

However, Toyota has proven before that it is up to the challenge, and wins this award for its unrelenting appetite for pushing the boundaries further and faster than anyone else.