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Plug in, turn on, drive out

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With the promise to be greener and cheaper to operate, Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) are creating quite a buzz in the auto world. PHEVs have been converted by installing an additional storage battery that allows the car to operate more in electric mode and less with the gasoline engine. Full-scale, commercial production could happen as early as next year. And when they do hit the marketplace, you will be able to charge your car at plug-in stations in Raleigh.

PHEVs from Toyota and GM are slated to hit the market in 2010. And if all goes according to the Obama administration's plan, there will be 1 million PHEVs in the American fleet by 2015.

Part of the reason that PHEVs haven't made it to the showroom is that old electric-car nemesis: expensive batteries. Another obstacle is the limited mileage availability between chargings. Those mileage numbers have improved: The Chevy Volt reportedly gets 40 mpg on the battery power alone. The cost is coming down, too. If mass produced, batteries would add $2,000-$3,000 to the price of a regular hybrid.

It may be a while before you see a new PHEV on a street near you, unless you live in one of five American cities that have already signed on to install plug-in stations. Think of them as powerful wall sockets in street side and in parking garages. The original three were Raleigh, Indianapolis and Portland, Ore., and were later joined by Denver and Houston in an initiative named Project Get Ready.

Project Get Ready is the brainchild of the Rocky Mountain Institute, an organization focused on sustainability and innovations for energy and resource efficiency.

By 2010, when PHEVs are expected to start trolling city streets, Raleigh plans to have six charging stations near downtown and N.C. State. Progress Energy, a partner in Project Get Ready, is paying for the stations. Meanwhile, several converted PHEVs are being driven downtown, including a city-owned Prius.

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