• Prius Plug-In arriving at dealers in select states
  • 11 mile range on electricity from the wall, 50 mpg after that
  • Qualifies for $2,500 federal tax credit and other state rebates

There's a new plug-in kid on the block and he may not be getting much of the electric car hype, but that doesn't stop his parents from thinking he'll be really popular.

The 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In is just now arriving at dealers. It only goes 11 miles on a fully charged battery-leading some to opine that it doesn't qualify as an actual electric car. However, given that the plug-in version is based on the world's best selling hybrid, Toyota is betting on relatively big numbers its first year out. Toyota says they expect to sell around 15,000.

The car is hitting California dealers first, and will roll out to other selected states over the next few months: Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia. By 2013 Toyota says it will be available nationally.

The choice of California as a launch market is a strategic move on Toyota's part. The car qualifies for the state's $1,500 "Clean Vehicle Rebate" as well as carpool lane access when only one person is in it. That latter feature is something as good as gold to many Californians, and something the regular Prius doesn't qualify for anymore. In addition, the Prius Plug-in is eligible for a $2,500 federal tax rebate. Before incentives the car comes in two trims with two MSRPs: the $32,000 Standard model and the $39,525 Advanced model with features such as a heads up display, adaptive radar cruise control and an upgraded navigation/infotainment system.

After a full charge (about 3 hours when plugged into a regular household outlet, or 1.5 hours out of a special 240 volt charging station), Toyota says drivers should expect to be able to drive 11 miles before the car reverts to being a regular Prius and delivering 50 mpg in combined city/highway driving. In extended driving sessions on multiple occasions over the last year (both with a prototype and the final production car) those numbers were relatively typical for us or even a bit on the low side.

For the average commuter, effective fuel economy in the Prius Plug-In can be more than 80 mpg-and if you have an outlet to charge while at work. It could even be higher-however, the cost of electricity while driving under electric power should be factored in. Most drivers will see around 3 miles per kilowatt hour on electricity, so if your electricity is priced at 12 cents per kilowatt hour, that equates to 4 cents per mile when running on electricity alone in the Prius Plug-In.

What it means to you: The Prius Plug-In has a far lower electric range than other more-hyped electric cars, but it costs less and could be more popular than them too.

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Nick Chambers is a "next generation" car enthusiast, recognized for his green automotive coverage in Gas 2.0, The New York Times, Popular Mechanics, HybridCars.com and PluginCars.com. In addition, he's been syndicated in Matter Network, AP and Reuters.

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