By Michael Abramson
Special to The Almanac
Sally Cooper never minded answering market research questions. And now that responding to some questions over the phone and online earned her the chance to test-drive the new plug-in electric Prius, she is sure to answer them even more often.
Ms. Cooper, who is a financial controller for her company Menlo Money Matters, has been a Menlo Park resident for 14 years and is a native of London, England.
She normally drives a 2007 Honda Civic Hybrid, but jumped at the chance to test out the plug-in Prius when she was offered the opportunity.
That chance, however, almost ended before it began.
"I got a phone call and it sounded like a spam phone call," Ms. Cooper said. "I nearly put the phone down."
She didn't, and after answering several car-related questions, she was invited to take a survey online. Though still unaware that it was for Toyota, she agreed. After finishing the survey, she was informed that she qualified to test drive the new car for six weeks.
Mrs. Cooper's plug-in Prius is one of only 20 that have been lent out for market research testing by individuals, all in the Bay Area. Another 130 have been lent to universities around the country for their testing.
The car Mrs. Cooper is testing is the first Prius to use plug-in technology that runs the car for the first 14 miles solely on electric power. After that, the car's hybrid electric-gas system kicks in.
Ms. Cooper says she has been able to get about 67 miles a gallon in the plug-in Prius. That's pretty impressive compared to the 43 mpg she gets with her Honda Civic and the 51-mpg Toyota reports the 2010 Prius gets.
It was 20 days and 800 miles before Mrs. Cooper finally had to put gas in the car.
To charge the car, Ms. Cooper only needs a regular wall outlet and about three hours. According to Toyota, Ms. Cooper said, charging the car for three hours requires about as much energy as keeping a hair dryer on for the same amount of time.
Mrs. Cooper hasn't determined how much she is spending on charging the car, but her experience has been positive regardless. "I would definitely consider buying one when they come out," she said. "I really like driving it."
The Toyota plug-in Prius is scheduled to be released in 2012.