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Converting the Prius to a plug-in

January 23, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
As part of his "green" energy plan, President Barack Obama wants to see 1 million plug-in vehicles on the road in the next seven years. They will boost mileage dramatically. Conversion kits are already available to turn a Toyota Prius into a plug-in, so Eyewitness News teamed up with Consumer Reports to test how well it works.Lee Ann Mercando loves her Prius, especially the gas mileage. So how would she feel if she could get even more miles per gallon?

"That would be fantastic," said Mercando. "I would love it. Anything to get better gas mileage these days."

Now you can have a lithium-ion battery installed in your Prius, plug it in at night, and get even better gas mileage. Consumer Reports wanted to check it out.

The batteries are like a really big laptop battery. They're put in the wheel well where your spare tire normally goes. And a small hole has to be made for the plug. The Prius then can go longer distances and at higher speeds solely on battery power.

Tests found the plug-in Prius did not routinely get 100 miles per gallon as claimed, but still, the plug-in kits really boosted mileage.

"The plug-in Prius got 67 miles per gallon overall during the first 35 miles, compared with 42 miles per gallon overall the Prius normally gets," said Jon Linkov, Consumer Reports.

But don't reach for your tool kit just yet.

"You can't do this installation yourself and there are only a handful of locations that are authorized to do the conversion. We had to wait five months to get our kit installed," said Linkov.

And then there's the matter of the money. Converting the Prius to a plug-in costs more than $10,000.

"From a dollars-and-cents perspective, doing this conversion makes no sense because it would take decades to recoup the cost," said Linkov. "But the plug-in technology is a viable option if it becomes massed produced and costs come down."

In the meantime, Consumer Reports' tests show a Prius like Lee Ann's is one of the best money-saving, fuel-saving deals on the road.

The plug-in Prius Consumer Reports tested ran 35 miles before the battery ran down.

Consumer Reports says since most people drive less than 40 miles a day, a plug-in car could dramatically cut fuel consumption.


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