Hybrid vehicles are available today and continue to gain market acceptance. Toyota's Prius has been the overwhelming favorite of the car-buying public interested in gas-electric hybrids. The first 100,000 Prius gas-electric hybrids were sold by September 2004, after the introduction of the car in Japan in 1997. While it took almost seven years to reach the first 100,000 sales, a five-fold increase was achieved in about 18 months. By April 2006, Toyota's worldwide sales passed 500,000 units. Momentum continued to build, and after another year had passed, Toyota exceeded the one million mark in sales. The Prius is a market hit, and the gas-electric hybrid technology for fuel efficiency and reduced greenhouse gas emissions has gained consumer accep tance. Electric vehicles that were popular at the turn of the 20th century are making a comeback in the 21st century. Two entrants come from Tesla Motors, the Roadster, a high-end sport car for the elite buyer, and Think, with their City car, a working everyday runabout. Think is working to fulfill a vision of producing a carbon-neutral vehicle. The Think City has a range of 112 mi. (180 km.) on a single charge, regulated at a maximum speed of 62 mi. (100 km.) per hour. It is ideal for local driving, easily exceeding the typical 50 mi. (80 km.) a day that most people drive.
Associated with an aspect of sustainability is the vehicle's battery, the major expense in any electric vehicle. It is expected that battery-leasing companies will appear to make vehicles like the Think City affordable to a wider audience. Utility operators can use batteries no longer suitable for transportation, but still retaining a useful charge, in their power facil ities to store excess energy produced by renewable sources such as solar and wind. Many governments are offering some form of rebate incentive to go green and help improve local air quality, regardless of the type of gas-electric hybrid or electric vehicle driven. For example, the Canadian province of Manitoba initiated a $2,000 rebate program to offset the higher cost of gas-electric hybrid vehicles versus comparable "dirtier" vehicles. The objective was to increase the number of hybrid vehicles from a paltry .01 percent of vehicles operating, to some greater percentage that would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
A July 2007 joint study by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reports that even with marginal reductions made to existing power plant emissions and acceptance of gas-electric hybrids on the order of 20 percent of the driving public by 2050, 163 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions would be cut. This worst-case scenario is great news for hybrid advocates, especially those pushing for PHEVs. In a better case scenario, where more aggressive pollution-control measures are invoked on utilities and where hybrids garner over a 60 percent share of the market, 468 million tons of greenhouse gases can be spared from the atmosphere. This translates into removing more than 80 million cars from the highways.
In early 2007, it was reported that a standard Prius converted to PHEV doubled its gas mileage range. One 51 mi. (82 km.) trip netted an efficiency of 124 mi. (300 km.) per gallon at a cost of a penny in electricity per mile. The conversion to PHEV delivered a huge reduction in gas consumption of just over 60 percent, while emitting about two-thirds less greenhouse gases. Total cost was $1.76 in gas and $0.51 electricity versus the $3.17 in gas it normally cost. PHEVs contribute lower CO2 emissions, because they do not burn fossil fuels directly, but take electricity from a mix of sources produced by the utility. In a more typical comparison with conventional ICE vehicles, a standard Prius will release one-third less carbon dioxide than a large sedan into the atmosphere.
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