Toyota Motor Corp. has joined the growing ranks of automakers planning to bring advanced battery-powered vehicles to showrooms in the near future.
The Japanese automaker said it planned to have a plug-in version of its popular Prius hybrid for sale in the U.S. within three years.
"The target is 2012 to be coming to market with them," Irving Miller, a group vice president for Toyota's U.S. sales unit, said at a Los Angeles conference on climate change, Bloomberg News reported.
Before that, "we're going to study the challenges of consumer demand," he said.
Toyota had earlier announced its intention to bring 150 plug-in Priuses to the U.S. by the end of this year, but they are going to be doled out to vehicle fleets in what amounts to a large-scale road test.
Friday's announcement by Miller was the first time Toyota had set a date for making the plug-in version of the Prius available to consumers.
Toyota will have plenty of company. General Motors Co. plans to have its Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid in showrooms by the end of 2010, and Ford Motor Co. plans to have an all-electric version of its Focus compact on the market by 2011.
BMW and Nissan Motor Co. have electric vehicles planned for the U.S. market by 2012, and various niche manufacturers such as Tesla Motors Inc. are developing plug-in hybrids or electric-only vehicles.
In his remarks, Miller was more restrained about the sales prospects for a plug-in Prius than some of Toyota's rivals have been when discussing their advanced-powertrain cars. That caution is a result of the consumer response in California to Toyota's battery-powered RAV4 sport utility vehicles early in this decade, he said.
"We had a lot of people raising their hands for the RAV4 EV," he said. "As soon as we made them ready for sale, that line evaporated very quickly."
The standard Prius hybrid, which has an EPA rating of 50 miles per gallon in city-highway driving, combines an electric motor with a conventional gasoline engine to achieve improved fuel economy.
A plug-in version would have more powerful batteries that would enable the car to travel a certain distance -- perhaps as much as 10 miles, although Toyota has been unclear on this point -- on electric power alone. The batteries could be recharged by plugging the car into a household outlet.