Toyota dubious of early plug-in hybrid success

The Obama administration is heavily pushing plug-in hybrid vehicle technology - and has even set the goal of 1 million plug-in hybrids on the road by 2015 - but Toyota warns that the buying public might not be ready to buy into plug-in vehicles.

Toyota now sell more than 150,000 units of its Prius in the United States annually - easily making it the most popular hybrid on the market - but the Japanese automaker is wary of the demand for plug-in hybrids, according to Reuters.

"ňúPlug-in' became a mainstream buzz word when gas hit $4 a gallon last summer, but now that gas is under $2.50, Toyota is dubious of the potential for plug-in sales. In fact, Bill Reinert, Toyot's U.S. national manager for advanced technology, recently told a panel in Washington that plug-in demand wouldn't exceed 50,000 units a year and could be as low as 3,500 units.

Toyota foresees such low demand for plug-in hybrids because of the expected high costs and low durability of the early plug-in models. Early plug-ins will likely carry a $10,000+ premium over their non-plug-in counterparts, despite returning real-world fuel economy figures that aren't that far apart. Moreover, recharge times are expected to be in the hours, with battery life essentially unproven.

We should have a better idea of the market when the Chevrolet Volt finally hits the market in late 2010, but it seems the goal of 1 million plug-ins by 2015 is a little out of reach.