Published on August 28th, 2014 | by Christopher DeMorro

Video: Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid…To Plug In Or Not?

August 28th, 2014 by  

The Toyota Prius has long been the undisputed king of the hybrid world, wearing a 50 MPG crown that no other car has come to close to matching. With the addition of the Prius Plug-In, Toyota now offers drivers the option of driving up to 11 all-electric miles, though you don’t always have to plug in to get around, as this new Toyota advertisement points out.

The 30-second spot sees a Prius Plug-In driver arriving (presumably) at a friend’s house, where he is directed to plug in in the garage. Unfortunately, all the sockets are occupied by necessary appliances (a refrigerator and an aquarium with a creepy fish bobbing about)…at least on the one wall. Our intrepid driver never bothers to turn around to see that open socket along the left-hand wall of the garage.

Also, who the hell keeps a pet fish in their garage?

Semantics aside, the point of the commercial is that the Prius Plug-In lets you have it all; an estimated 95 MPGe with a fully-charged battery, and the same 51/49/50 MPG rating as the standard issue Prius when you’ve run out of juice. Some owners have even reported efficiency as high as 356 MPGe. Fair enough.

But seriously, finding a place to plug in should never be this problematic, and I’m no fan of commercials that make the average consumer look like an idiot. Then again, when it comes to plug-in cars there are so many misconceptions that perhaps this approach is the only one that really makes sense.

What do you think? Does this commercial insult the intelligence of the average consumer, or does Toyota really have to “dumb it down” to explain how the Prius Plug-In works?

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About the Author

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.

  • peter farkas

    So first you invest millions in development of prius plug in and than the only ad you can come up with is to advertise that you don´t need to plug it in.

  • JamesWimberley

    The ad confirms other evidence that Toyota are having a conservative moment and are not really committed to evs. The main rival PHEV, the Volt, has an EPA electric range of 35 miles, covering typical commutes. I wouldn’t consider the Prius for a second.

    • Steve Grinwis

      I agree fully James.

    • Agreed. And would go with one of the Energi models over the the PiP if i needed 5 seats.

    • sault

      And the PiP is only around $4k cheaper than the Volt, but the differential in the tax credit (if you can take it all) makes the price difference between the two very small.

  • Marion Meads

    My friend who bought a plug-in-Prius totally regretted buying it because it was very unwise for him to plug-it-in at home. He should have just bought the cheaper regular Prius, he is a fan of Toyota. Now, he only recharges when there are free charging stations at his destinations, but never at his house.

    Here’s the Math:
    11 EV miles at 4.4 kWH battery capacity
    Plugging the Prius would bump him up from Tier 2 to Tier 3, so his added electricity charging the Prius will cost $0.34/kWH. And that 11 miles will cost him $1.50.

    If he did not recharge, and just drove using gasoline, at 50 mpg, the 11 miles would cost him: $3.519/gal (CostCo) x 11 mile /50 mpg = $0.77.

    WHY IN THE WORLD would he plug it in? Unfortunately, installing a Time of Use special meter just for the PIP would set him back $2,300. Unfortunately, his house is shaded by the trees from the two neighboring houses, and the trees were there first, so Solar PV is not feasible, just not enough sunshine hours.

    Let us say, he spents $2,300 and gets the special EV rate of $0.11/kWH
    And here’s what it cost him to drive the 11 miles in pure EV mode:
    4.4 kWH x $0.11/kWH = $0.48

    Great, by spending $2,300 more, he would get a savings of $0.77-$0.48 = $0.29 per full charging time at his home compared to gasoline. Now, would you bother to plug it in by unrolling the cable, and then again rolling it back for the storage in order to save $0.29?

    Now most likely, the $2,300 would be on personal loan, at 7% APR. If it is amortized monthly, the finance charges alone without the principal payment is $0.44/day. If he recharges only once per day, he would lose $0.15/day. If he charges at least twice a day, then he would have a savings of $0.14/day over using just gasoline. Is he willing to save $0.14/day by plugging it in twice? So installing a separate recharging unit for special EV electricity rate is not feasible either.

    • eveee

      We might want to revise the math. 11 miles uses how many kwhr? It should be about 1kwhr every 4 miles.(3.8 for most Leaf drivers) Thats just less than 3kwhr. By my math that makes it 3kwhr x .34/kwhr or about 1 dollar. The reason may be that not all of the 4.4kwhr available is used, as in most EVs.

      “We know the PiP has a 4.4Kwh battery pack; but we also know, like all plug-in cars, that not all of that capacity is usable. It turns out that 3.4 Kwh is actually usable.”

      There is a crossover point by utility rate, kwhr/mile and $/gallon mpg. I don’t think its realistic to use Tier 4 electric rates, and rock bottom costco gas prices. Many EV users switch to PV and get less than 0.20/kwhr. In fact, a lot of regular California ratepayers switch to PV because of Tier 4 and up.

      So lets compute the crossover. At 50 mpg, and at Californias current average retail gasoline price, $3.834 /g

      We have, $3.834/g x 1g/50 mile = $0.07668/mile

      For the plug in at Tier 4, we have $0.34/kwhr x 1kwr/3.8 mile=$.08947/mile

      That is equivalent to 42.85 mpg. There are not many gas cars with that kind of average mpg.

      Now lets see where we are with a more meaningful electric rate. FYI, apartment dwellers can participate in community solar to get lower Tier rates, if that matters, as well. And to be fair, most ratepayers don’t know about this and it may not be available everywhere.

      Lets be conservative and use the PPA rate guaranteed by a PV provider,
      about 17c/kwhr. The P G and E low tier rate is less.

      With these numbers, we can exactly ration by 2 the numbers because 0.17 is exactly half of 0.34:

      plug in = $.0447/mile.

      To get that from an ICE, we need,

      mile/$.0477 x $3.834/g = 80.377 mpg.

      • Marion Meads

        So far, I haven’t seen any data that shows accurately the actual wall kWH versus EV mile driven for the PIP. There are recharger losses to take into consideration, not only the useable kWH.

        By displaying the cost per mile, you are misleading a lot of the people when in fact only the first 11 EV miles count for the comparison when recharging per day, and you are implying the EV mileage cost to indefinite amounts.

        The bottom line still, the savings you get in Plug-In-Prius is not worth the effort of plugging it in. Thus the PIP is an illogical choice. The only reason why it sells is because it is a Toyota and people are illogical when it comes to brand loyalty.

        The best technology out there is still the GM-Volt which is really worth plugging it in, you will be saving more than $2.50 per charge, and more than $3.50 per charge if you have solar PV. If Toyota has at least a 35 mile battery pack, then it is a contender for the GM-Volt, but would still use gas in its first 35 mile trek because of the weaker electric motor. The price of the Volt has become cheaper than the PIP after you avail of the Federal Tax Credit and the State rebates, but simply because it is GM, it doesn’t sell as well as I’d hope it would be.

        • sault

          The Chevy Volt only has such high “savings” because its fuel economy once its batteries are depleted is only a paltry 35mpg. So of course you’re going to save a lot more only because the vehicle’s gasoline powertrain is so wasteful in comparison (and you’re burning premium gas too!). Don’t get me wrong, the Volt is a nice vehicle too, but you are overselling it.

          It’s telling that you don’t bring up any horror stories about higher electricity consumption tiers, $2,300 electric meters and an inability to install solar panels when discussing the Volt yet you raise these issues when talking about the Plug-in Prius. Why is that?

          • Steve Grinwis

            He’s only implying that because so little energy is stored in the battery, the act of plugging in only saves you $0.29, and so, is not worth it. I guess he doesn’t plug in for anything less than $1.00?

            Not sure. I have a full BEV, so it, definitely worth it for me to recharge.

            Also: This whole tiered thing is completely new to me. Where I live, I get cheap hydro at night, slightly more expensive power during the day. So I plug in at night for $0.12 / kWh. Would probably make plugging in even a PiP worth it!

        • Kyle Field

          So Cal Edison (my elec provider) has special rates for EV owners…providing ultra off peak rates of ~$.09/kwh at night (between 12a-6a). The offset is that the daytime rates are higher. This looks terrible on the surface, but is really a great way to incentivise EV owners to install solar…with which, they can generate power at uber peak rates ($.26/kwh) that, with the current net metering setup, is credited at the higher rate.

          All that to say…it’s likely worthwhile for you to encourage your friend to look into an EV elec plan + solar for huge reductions in EV charging rates and with solar, the overall power bill.

        • eveee

          There is no attempt to mislead on costs per mile. Thats your bailiwick. It is clear we are only talking about the electricity part of the equation. That is how you addressed the subject, not me. I am replying to your post, after all. I don’t know why you are grasping at straws with wall kwhrs. Charger efficiencies are over 90%, that hardly affects the math. The bottom line is not that the PiP is not worth plugging in. It depends on the conditions. The bottom line is that you chose the absolute rock bottom price for gasoline and the highest price for electricity, and assumed all the electricity in the pack was used which cannot be done. All highly misleading and cherry picked. How on earth is it that you suddenly switch to PV based power for the Volt? I am getting tired of your constant deceptions. If you compared the Volt with the same electricity as the PiP, you would get a different result. And show your calculations, not just the results.

          • eveee

            Here is a comprehensive assessment including relative costs of ownership and fuel/electricity costs comparing various vehicles. The Leaf is 7000 dollars less on a cost of ownership over 5 years. There is also a more balanced assessment of fuel vs electricity costs.

            Notwithstanding the Volts larger battery, the Volt comes out slightly more expensive than the Leaf on a cost/mile basis. Given that the Prius has better gas mileage, one wonder if that would be the case also.

            On a total cost of ownership over 5 years, the Volt comes out decidedly at a disadvantage. I am for the Volt. It still comes out better than many ICE only vehicles and serves a valid purpose for a lot of people where an EV is not an option. Volt owners have a hedge against rising fuel prices among many advantages.


    • sault

      The separate meter is not $2,300. Where are you getting this nonsense? The separate meter is only $100:

      Also, the Prius doesn’t use all 4.4 kWhs in its battery to go 11 miles:

      “A fully charged battery state of charge reads 85% and the all-electric mode disengages at 23%”

      Therefore, it only uses 62% of 4.4 kWh to go 11 miles, or 2.73kWh.

      So in summary, your numbers are all messed up. If somebody was going to get pushed into a higher consumption tier due to 2 or 3 extra kWhs of usage a day (60 to 90 extra per month), then they have a lot more to worry about than a plug-in vehicle. Most likely, they would go with the special EV metering and take the $0.11 / kWh deal from the utility. And I think you’re confused about how much this deal would cost. Installing a level II charger in your garage probably costs $2,300 on the high end, but the PiP doesn’t need level II charging to begin with. Again, the special EV meter only costs $100 and installation might bring that up to $500 at most.

      So, since you were 38% off on your electricity consumption estimate for the PiP, the actual cost to drive 11 miles in all-electric mode is $0.30. Now, you’re right, $0.43 per day isn’t a big whoop, but things aren’t nearly as bad as you make them out to be.

      • Kyle Field

        Just replacing the meter is $100 (the circle thing), but if a circuit upgrade is required, that typically needs a new panel, contractors, permits, etc…which is around $2k. I need a panel upgrade for my EV charger and yeah…$2k.

        • sault

          You don’t need a circuit upgrade for a Plug-in Prius in almost every circumstance. Since you only put in about 3kWh per charge, then a few hours on a 120v socket works just fine. If you can plug in a power tool or any run-of-the-mill appliance into the socket, you can plug in the Prius no problem.

    • Roger Pham

      Very good and thorough analysis. Indeed, the Prius PHV is just an after thought and not worth buying.
      It is best that an optimized HEV and PHEV not share platform nor drive train. HEV’s have very small battery pack and needs a larger engine and a hybrid synergy drive to extend the life of the battery.
      PHEV’s have much larger battery pack and need larger motor, but do not need the complexity of the hybrid synergy drive, and need much smaller engine to provide base load only, while the motor will provide peak load. The smaller engine will reduce weight, cost, and provide more space for half of the battery pack up front in order to proved for a full trunk space.

      Until the MFG’s will realize this, sales of PHEV’s will continue to be poor!

  • Benjamin Nead

    The only thing worse would have been for the terminally annoying Toyota dealer receptionist, Jan (who seems to star in every other one of their TV commercials,)
    be present, providing the guilt factor for not unplugging the fish tank.

  • Loren McDonald

    I think this commercial fails for the simple reason that I don’t believe it successfully achieves its goal. 99.99% of the planet doesn’t understand the difference between an EV, PHEV, HV, EREV, et al. Hell, I follow this stuff and even I get confused. The commercial was too subtle and not straightforward enough. They should have had a driver of the Prius PHEV drive by a guy sitting next to a Leaf (or other EV) in a public charging station looking at his watch or something. And just have the Prius driver or narrator simply explain that with the plug-in version of the Prius, if you don’t have time or forget to plug-in – it is still a hybrid and you’ll make it to school in time to pick up your kid after soccer practice. The essence of this commercial should have been to convey the elimination of range anxiety. I call this a #fail.

  • Steve Grinwis

    Only time I ever need a top up on my BEV is when I go on road trips, thus far.

    Otherwise, I just charge at home, and it would do me a couple of days. I only really plug in every night out of habit.

    But, thanks for Toyota, for spreading EV fud. This ad screams “BEV”‘s are inconvenient, and not ready for main stream. Better buy a PHEV. I’m developing a really strong dislike of Toyota.

    • Thanks for the comment. Those first two lines should be repeated in 70% of EV articles instead of that RA BS.

      Toyota… yeah…

      • Kyle Field

        I’m not a Toyota fan…however, there’s no denying how much of a positive impact the Prius has had. As noted, it’s the flagship hybrid (side note – it still blows me away how many people don’t know what a hybrid is) and has allowed many many many people who dont care about the environment to drive a car that gets better mpgs, burns less fuel, etc.

        Having said that, their lack of a next gen car is a joke. They will look back at this in 10 years as a dull time in company history. They had (have?) such a “green” image with the prius being the gas saver that it is…but have nothing to follow behind it…which is about the only reason I can see that they would pull a stunt like this ad.

        and yes, I drive a prius 🙂

        Final, final note…I rented a Hyundai Sonata hybrid on a recent business trip and was VERY impressed with it. Compared to the prius in just about every way including mileage…at about 50mpg.

        • djr417

          I would consider myself a Toyota fan (and hybrid Camry owner) but I made that purchase 7 years ago- and since then Toyota has done very little- the recent additions of two slightly different Prius’ isnt exactly earth shattering news. The fact they dragged their heels on lithium batteries- and their plug in gets a worthless 11miles on electricity is embarassing! Iwouldve hoped by now that their hybrid line up would atleast include the Rav 4, the Sienna and something sporty.

    • eveee

      Most of the major manufacturers give lip service and produce quota EV cars. The exceptions are BMW and Nissan that have purpose built from the ground up EVs. The others are hedging with PHEVs or just a wait and see, lip service point of view. They are waiting for volumes to rise. Their subtle anti EV cast is not going to win them customers.

      • Steve Grinwis

        The Smart EV is available world wide, and is making up something like 25% of sales. It was also designed to be built as electric from it’s inception, but batteries in 2002 weren’t quite good enough…

        • eveee

          Steve – Thanks for mentioning that. For a while they were available in small quantities in some places in the US. I drove one. Its not bad with the hatchback layout giving some room in back. The initial price was too high, but the discounted ones were very good.

    • sault

      Toyota has always had horrible ads. They don’t really need great ads because the cars sell themselves anyway. This one is no different. (And don’t even get me started on the ads for the PiP they have in Japan…)

  • anderlan

    Of course with 11 miles of EV range, of course you’re always jonesing to plug in everywhere you go. With a normal 100 mile BEV, you don’t care.

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