Finally, a hybrid vehicle that makes economical and environmental sense. The Piaggio MP3 Hybrid has just been launched in Europe, becoming not only the first plug-in hybrid vehicle to enter mass-production, but also the first hybrid vehicle, of any kind mind you, to use lithium ion batteries. It's also the most fuel efficient, returning up to 141mpg in normal use. Let's take a look at why the MP3 Hybrid makes so much sense.

A leaning three-wheeler combines the advantages of a scooter -- traffic busting, easy parking -- with something that's easy-to-use and, most importantly, unintimidating to new riders. Unlike other, supposedly eco-friendly vehicles like the Toyota Prius, the MP3 Hybrid will never get stuck in traffic nor create congestion for other road users, thereby further reducing its impact on the environment.

Since the gasoline engine only displaces 124cc, European riders will be able to ride it on nothing but a car license or a motorcycle learner's permit.

Fuel Economy:
The MP3 Hybrid performs like a 250cc scooter, most of those return about 90-95mpg. In similar urban conditions, the MP3 Hybrid adds 50% to that figure. In comparison, the 2010 Toyota Prius, the most fuel-efficient car sold in the US, returns only 50mpg in the combined EPA cycle.

The Plug:
A common modification for super nerdy Prius owners is a plug, enabling them to recharge their batteries at home or at the office and then run on electricity-only for longer and faster. That also enables them not to suck down gasoline to recharge the battery when electricity, even from coal-fired power plants, is created far more efficiently and is so easily available.

Electric-Only Operation:
Many European cities are rapidly defining areas open only to electric vehicles. In electric mode, the MP3 can access these areas. Additionally, you never need use gasoline for short trips just super-cheap electricity.

Lithium Ion Battery:
More energy density and reliability than NiMH or LiPo cells, Lithium Ion means higher performance, lighter weight and increased longevity. Expect the batteries to last the vehicle's lifetime.

Unlike all-electric competitors, the MP3 Hybrid's range is indefinite. Need to take a long trip? Just stop at gas stations and top up.

It's Coming To America:
Piaggio Group President and CEO Paolo Timoni exclusively revealed to us that the MP3 Hybrid will go on-sale in the US Q1 2010 for around $8 or $9,000.

Read more about the Piaggio MP3 Hybrid here and here.

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