Al Gore

Plug-in Prius.

Call me an optimist, but a feasible plug-in appears to be just over the horizon.

First, Toyota has several plug-in Priuses being driven in Japan to collect data — technical and human behavioral. They are sticking with NiMH batteries for now.

Next, Honda is finally getting ready to launch the much-needed Prius alternative. There are a lot of people out there who refuse to buy a Prius for various reasons that would be alleviated with a serious competitor that is not only cheaper, but just as distinctive looking.*

Finally, Mitsubishi will sell an electric car next year called the i-MiEV (sport version seen here) that uses an advanced battery being developed by Mitsubishi Motors, GS Yuasa Ltd., and Mitsubishi Trading Co. The significance of this announcement is that they must now have a battery that can be charged and discharged to within 80 percent of its capacity, which will also last the life of the car. It still has limited range, and I suspect will primarily be used for around town errands — fulfilling the role of second car for urban families. Although it won’t be cheap, the hatchback version will hold four people, and both versions look sharp.

*I recently listened to a book called Differentiate or Die by Jack Trout. Although the book is all about marketing, not evolutionary selective pressures, this marketing maxim wouldn’t work if humans didn’t have an urge to differentiate. I’m sure it’s got something to do with attracting mates, sex, and genes using that combination to propel themselves into the future; Marketing fulfills that drive.