Major automakers might say that there isn’t a race involved in who delivers their electric vehicles first, but we know that’s about as true as John Edward’s initial claims of marital fidelity. Toyota recently announced that its plug-in Prius will be coming to market in 2009 in the form of commercial test fleets, instead of the previously announced 2010 date. GM has also said that it will have its anticipated Chevy Volt available in commercial test fleets in 2009, with consumer availability in 2010.
Why are Toyota and GM using this strategy? It all boils down to product testing and quality assurances, as well as the appearance of an earlier market time than the rest of the crowd. As Irv Miller, Group Vice President, Corporate Communications for Toyota says:
“As much as we want to speed the latest hybrid technology to the public, we have vowed as a company to not release new systems until they are reliable and ready for everyday use. One of the best ways to help ensure that is through rigorous testing in fleets that do a tremendous amount of driving in all types of weather and road conditions.”
The strategy of delivering test commercial fleets before a consumer launch is tried and true and has worked for decades. Think of it this way: Consider how much of a pounding your average taxi goes through in a week, versus what you do to a car in a week. Fleet use is a pretty good crucible to see what works and what doesn’t in the cars a lot of us might end up owning.
So in 2010 when two of the most highly-anticipated cars in recent memory hopefully land in our driveways, they’ll already have had a year’s worth of in-the-field testing. The cars will be soaked by rains, driven through pot holes, slammed, bashed and generally abused, all to the very good end of seeing what breaks, and then upgrading those parts before the cars are available for people like us to buy. Expectations and demand are high for these cars; there are reports that some people are already putting down deposits to buy the new plug-in Prius when it does hit the streets.
Then there are the bragging rights Toyota and GM earn for touting the year 2009, instead of 2010. That’s because there’s a legion of green cars coming out in two years time. Beyond the plug-in Prius and the Chevy Volt, there are offerings from Nissan, Zenn, Think, Mitsubishi, Mazda (and therefore, Ford), Ferrari, Mercedes and VW. The next few years are going to be very important for these companies — and very interesting for green car watchers.