Toyota appears to be starting the expectations-management game for its upcoming plug-in hybrid vehicles after being stung in the past by complaints from Prius owners of lower-than-advertised mileage. Bill Reinert, national manager of Toyota U.S.A's advanced technology group, yesterday told a Brookings Institution/Google conference panel, "when we see the (claims of) 100 mile-per-gallon stuff, not everybody's going to get 100 miles per gallon." Mark "The Mullet" Fields, Ford Motor Co. president for the Americas, made what we think was the most important point to be made at the conference — that plug-ins need to be a "national priority." However, that message was lost when he next asked for a government handout, saying "significant government funding is needed for development of domestic production of advanced batteries and for retooling of plants." Sorry Mark, John McCain doesn't have any money to hand out yet — even if your battery can go 100 miles per charge.
That said, we commend the Washington Conference on Plug-Ins for bringing together the top automotive, utility and technology companies to discuss the challenges facing plug-in hybrid vehicles. There's a real need for some kind of governmental help on making them a reality. However, we'd disagree with Fields in his assessment of what form that help should take. What we really need is not the development of domestic production, but the development of domestic R&D. The auto industry needs monies centralized in a Manhattan Project-like plan to develop real battery technology for the entire industry. But the chances of that happening can be summed up in the words of Jalopnik Understatement award-winner Tom Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute, who said "people in this country are mad." [Automotive News (Sub. Req.)]