Plug-in Prius Charges Up EV Market

With Toyota setting the price for its 2012 plug-in Prius at $32,000 (fully loaded top end will cost $39,525), the competition among plug-in electric cars is heating up.

While we won't see the full battle between Toyota, Chevy (Volt), Nissan (LEAF), Ford (Focus Electric) until well into next year, the early battle line will center around price, and bang for your buck. Or should I say mileage for your charge.

More importantly, is the premium being charged for these electric cars going to turn off buyers or be a non-factor?

2010 Prius
2010 Prius

The Plug-in Prius will be a critical player in all the electric car battles.

While it's new to the electric car race, the plug-in Prius has an advantage: fantastic brand recognition. In the world of hybrids, Prius is dominant player by a wide margin. In fact, it's the one "next generation" green car that has broken through the clutter with mass public.

Here's a comparison to put this in perspective: This year, Toyota has sold more than 80,000 Prius models here in the US, while Chevy has sold roughly 3,000 Volts. Yes, I know the Volt is not a hybrid, nor does it have the same production numbers, or price point as the Prius. Still, when it comes to Americans looking for a green car with great mileage, Prius is the king of the hill.

That brand awareness will help drive interest in the Plug-in Prius. But are people who are willing to pay $23,520 for a standard Prius with 50 MPG, be willing to pay another $10,000 for a plug-in version that could help commuters get an estimate 87 MPG?

I'm not so sure.

If gas surges higher in 2012 and 2013, then yes, the plug-in Prius will find plenty of buyers. How many it takes from the standard Prius and how many come from its electric car competitors remains to be seen.

But the price point is critical.

Later this year the Ford Electric will come out in limited markets at a price yet to be determined. Depending on where it comes in the Focus Electric will draw the lines in the battle for EV buyers. The Nissan LEAF has staked out the bottom end in the low-20's while the Chevy Volt at roughly $40,000 has staked out the high end for mass market electric cars.

If the Plug-in Prius charges up the market, the winner could not only be Toyota, but an EV category about to grow bigger.


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