YURI KAGEYAMA | June 3, 2009 06:41 AM EST | AP

TOKYO — Toyota said Wednesday it will start leasing plug-in hybrid cars, that are even greener than its hit Prius, by the end of this year in the U.S., Japan and Europe.

Toyota Motor Corp., the world’s top automaker, will start leasing 200 plug-ins in Japan, 150 in the U.S. and 150 in Europe, mostly for rental, such as through special government-backed programs, it said in a release.

Toyota will for the first time use lithium-ion batteries in the plug-ins. The batteries are already used in some cars but more common in laptops and other gadgets.

Toyota hybrids now use nickel-metal hydride batteries. Using a lithium-ion battery will produce more energy, allowing the car to run more as an electric vehicle, but there have been some technological hurdles.

A plug-in recharges from a regular household socket. When the battery runs low, it will start running as a regular hybrid so drivers don’t have to worry about running out of juice on the road.

Automakers around the world are working on plug-in models. Recharging stations are expected to proliferate in the cities of the future, much like gasoline stands, for recharging.

The booming sales of the revamped Prius, which went on sale last month, have been a rare bright spot for Toyota.

Battered by the global slump and the strong yen, the maker of the Camry sedan and Lexus luxury models recorded its worst loss in its seven-decade history for the fiscal year ended March.

Toyota dealers have received 110,000 orders for the Prius in Japan. Toyota acknowledged this week an order placed this month won’t get delivered until November or later.

Toyota leads the world in cumulative hybrid sales because of the popularity of the Prius, now in its third generation. The first-generation Prius went on sale in 1997.

JEAN H. LEE | May 18, 2009 12:57 PM EST |

SEOUL, South Korea — Urban visionaries in London and Seoul, two of the world’s busiest capital cities, foresee buses gliding through their streets with speed, ease and efficiency _ without emitting the exhaust fumes that scientists say are contributing to global warming.

Under Mayor Boris Johnson’s vision, London’s iconic red double-decker Routemaster buses would be back on the streets _ but powered by electricity, not gasoline.

Engineers at South Korea’s top-ranked KAIST university are meanwhile working on a novel prototype for an electric vehicle system: one that provides power on the go through induction strips laid into the roadway.

Cities _ which house 75 percent of the world’s population and generate 80 percent of its pollution _ must take leadership in tackling the problem of polluting emissions, Johnson said Monday in Seoul on the eve of the third C40 Large Cities Climate Summit.

“I think as a collective of cities, what we should be doing here in Seoul is agreeing that we are going to stop the endless addiction of mankind to the internal combustion engine,” he told reporters. “It’s time that we moved away from fossil fuels. It’s time that we went for low-carbon vehicles.”

“Cars form many problems that we see in Korea as well as other countries. We use hydrocarbon organic fuels, mostly petroleum, and that, in turn, creates environmental problems _ and Seoul is notorious,” said Suh Nam-pyo, president of KAIST in Daejeon, south of the South Korean capital.

Seoul, population 10 million, is getting warmer three times faster than the world average, the National Meteorological Administration said Monday.

The obvious solution, Suh said, is to “replace all these vehicles with vehicles that do not pollute the air and do not use oil.”

Back in March, Johnson zipped down a British highway in a U.S.-made electric car that he wrote marked “the beginning of a long-overdue revolution.”

He rhapsodized in a Telegraph newspaper editorial that the Tesla has no exhaust pipe, carburetor or fuel tank, and “while every other car on that motorway was a-parping and a-puttering, filling the air with fumes and particulates, this car was producing no more noxious vapours than a dandelion in an alpine meadow.”

Last month, he launched an ambitious plan to get 100,000 electric cars onto the streets of London by 2015. He pushed for the creation of 25,000 charging stations and vowed to convert some 1,000 city vehicles to make London the “electric car capital of Europe.”

“The age of the diesel-emitting bus has got to be over in London,” Johnson said.

He has promised electric motorists an exemption from the congestion charge imposed on drivers in central London, an annual saving of up to 1,700 pounds (about $2,600).

But that discount would barely make a dent in the eye-popping price tag of electric cars now on the market; the sleek Tesla that Johnson took for a spin costs more than $100,000.

And scientists are still grappling with the massive, sensitive, costly and fast-depleting batteries that take the place of international combustion engines and gasoline. Electric cars run between 40 and 120 miles (60 to 200 kilometers) on one charge, and it takes anywhere from two to seven hours to fully recharge, said Christian Mueller of the IHS Global Insight consulting firm.

“Everybody is frantically working on coming up with a viable electric car,” he said from Frankfurt, Germany.

Batteries “aren’t yet at a state where we can say they are cheap, they’re reliable and they’re easy to come by. They all still have their technical drawbacks,” said Mueller, who specializes in electrics and electronics.

The lithium supply for batteries is finite, and the question of where to charge them becomes complicated in cities where residents cannot easily plug their cars in overnight. A California company, Better Place, has introduced a promising battery-swapping technology.

Suh, an MIT-trained inventor with some 60 international patents to his name, approached the challenge from another angle.

“Why not have power transmitted on the ground and pick it up without using mechanical contact?” he said in an interview in his office overlooking the staging grounds for the university’s electric cars.

KAIST’s “online” vehicles pick up power from trips, or inverters, embedded into the road rather than transmitted through rails or overhead wires. A small battery, one-fifth the size of the bulky batteries typically used, would give the vehicle enough power for another 50 miles (80 kilometers), said Cho Dong-ho, the scientist in charge of the project.

South Korea produces its own nuclear power, meaning it can produce a continuous supply of energy to fuel such a plan.

President Lee Myung-bak, whose government gave KAIST $50 million for two major projects, including the “online” electric vehicle, took a spin in February.

Online buses are running at the KAIST campus and will begin test runs soon on the resort island of Jeju.

But Seoul, which has promised to set aside $2 million for the underground charging system, is within Suh’s sights. He said 9,000 gasoline-fueled buses now crisscross the capital, with 1,000 going out of commission each year. He envisions replacing those aging buses with electric models. Initial test runs are expected to take place this year.

Mueller, the consultant, called it a creative approach with potential.

“It sounds very intriguing; you don’t store your energy, you provide it on the go.” he said. “The (battery) storage problem is overcome instantly. That would be a very intriguing way of doing it.”

___

Associated Press writer Jae Hee Suh contributed to this report.

As reported in Huffington Green

By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNNMoney.com senior writer

Thanks to President Obama’s stimulus package, Americans can now get big tax breaks on more types of electric vehicles.

The credits originally would have stopped after they had been claimed on 250,000 vehicles across the whole industry. Now the credits will apply on up to 200,000 vehicles from any single manufacturer.

The old rules, passed in the fall of 2008, applied only to cars in the traditional sense, i.e., four-wheeled vehicles. Now three-wheeled and even two-wheeled electric vehicles are also eligible. Tax credits for these vehicles are calculated differently.

The changes also removed really big vehicles from eligibility. Given the environmental impact of heavy-duty trucks, some electric vehicle advocates call that a really big mistake.

The Internal Revenue Service still has to pass its own rules clarifying exactly how this new law will be implemented and what the tax credits will be. The ones shown here are our estimates, based on the legislation. The IRS declined to comment for this story.

So, if you plan to buy a plug-in vehicle, check with a tax accountant before you do anything, and carefully check out any vehicle manufacturer or seller before committing your money.