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Toyota to Dealers: Slow Down! Plus Demo Fleets Explained
Sep 2, 2008 (From the CalCars-News archive)
This posting originally appeared at CalCars-News, our newsletter of breaking CalCars and plug-in hybrid news. View the original posting here.
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We're informed by Eric Doebert of Magnussen Toyota that after taking deposits from several dozen customers, the dealer heard from HQ that since there's no announced timetable for production of vehicles, it didn't make sense for Magnussen to keep deposits (even if they were refundable). The deposits will be returned and the dealer has instead begun a waiting list.

By the way, our headline says Dealers, because it turns out there are at least two. At the end of last week, we heard that Matthew Meyer, Sales Manager at Toyota San Luis Obispo, that his dealership in fact had begun taking orders before Magnussen in Palo Alto. Since there's a national waiting lists run by for the Volt that's approaching 40,000, we think it would make sense if you're interested in a PHEV from Toyota to ask your dealer to start a waiting list as well.

We think this is all helpful. Both the company to dealer actions and the public comments show how Toyota is paying careful attention to its customers. Below you can read what the always genial Irv Miller, VP of Communications, has to say about dealers taking orders for a 2010 PHEV.

That's followed by an excellent explanation from Earth2Tech about why demonstration fleets make sense. We hope the carmakers will take the next step, with broader demonstration programs, selling limited numbers of "good enough" version 1.0 products not just to a few selected fleets but to larger populations that want to help them make better products!

Toyota Open Road Blog August 29, 2008 - Irv Miller, Group Vice President, Corporate Communications
The Plug-in Prius: Waiting is the Hardest Part for Dealers and Customers­2008/­08/­the-plug-in-pri.html

There's a lot of excitement these days among our customers and dealers about plug-in hybrid vehicles. Earlier this week, Toyota's Global President, Katsuaki Watanabe, announced that we are moving up our timetable from 2010 to early 2009 to deliver test Prius plug-in hybrids to commercial fleet customers in the United States and other parts of the world.

A lot of people can't wait to try them, so it's understandable that one of our dealers created some confusion recently by taking deposits on future Prius plug-in hybrids.

Although we hope some day to sell plug-in hybrids to retail customers, the only thing we have announced is that we will place several hundred plug-in Prius vehicles in commercial fleets by the end of next year.

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.

Magnussen's Toyota in Palo Alto, California was doing what we've always encouraged our dealers to listen carefully to their customers and try to meet their needs. Being so close to Silicon Valley, the dealership was getting lots of requests from customers who wanted to buy a plug-in Prius. And since the dealership had confidence Toyota would eventually deliver a great vehicle, they thought it would be a good idea to take deposits and make customers happy.

So, while we applaud Magnuessen's excitement about our future Prius plug-in, we want to be clear that we have not announced a timetable for retail sales.

Believe me, Toyota will get there as soon as we can. It just may not happen as quickly as we'd all like it to happen. In the meantime, we're very proud that Magnuessen's Toyota intends to return the deposits it has collected from customers hoping to be the first to buy a plug-in Prius. Soon, we hope they will be able to call those customers back and offer them the real thing.

Toyota, GM Push Electric Vehicle Test Fleets In Order to Beat the Crowd
Written by Tony Borroz­2008/­09/­01/­toyota-gm-push-electric-vehicle-test-fleets-in-order-to-beat-the-crowd/

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.

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