One way to help save the world is to buy a Prius for $20,000 but the fact remains that it still uses gas.

The next vehicle in line, which crosses the half-way point between gas and electric, is the PHEV. The vehicle has a bigger electrical engine meaning it is more efficient because of its capability to use more electricity. In addition, the consumer will have the option to choose not to use gas.

At the U.C Davis Institute of Transportation Studies Tom Turrentine, director of the Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) research center looks at the influence of transportation on society. More specifically Turrentine looks at the influence of hybrid cars that break the figurative “gas barrier,” like the PHEV which can make it 30 miles on plug-in battery power only.

The combination of two or more different things, gas and electricity in the case of the modern car, creates a mixture of possibilities. One example can be found in the battery of the PHEV, which happens to also be the largest cost issue.

“Can we bring the $500 a mile down to $250 a mile?” is a question that Turrentine is trying to find the answer to.

With the job of making hybrid car components reliable and cost effective in order to compete with gasoline-only vehicles, companies are less inclined to push the boundaries of new technologies than they are to focus on costs. This is why it takes academics like Turrentine use their problem-solving skills to develop the vehicles that will one day replace the hybrid.

The Prius has become such a big deal in all areas that for Turrentine it has stimulated his interest on an even higher academic level than expected, or in his words “how you change what people accept.”

This acceptance begins with the ever popular Prius hybrid, which simply uses electricity to improve its efficiency. The car needs gas to run, just not as much.

Despite the reputation as the next best thing to the light bulb, the truth is the electric motor in the Prius is only capable of going about one-mile without gas, making the PHEV, which can go 30 miles on its electric engine alone, even more of a breakthrough.

When it comes to the incorporation of the Prius into the modern transportation system, the astounding accomplishment may mirror the imminent incorporation of the PHEV.

“In two years it went from a concept car to a product car. Usually it’s about a four year window. Accomplishing it in two years gives us an idea of what’s possible,” said the research anthropologist about the incorporation of the PHEV in the near future.

The Prius was once on the same level of the parking structure where the PHEV presently sits idle. The climb from the Prius’ conception to its present-day popularity is a pocket of time that Turrentine describes as miraculous and complicated—like going to the moon formerly was.

In order to understand the impact of the up-and-coming blended PHEV it is important to visualize a scale with gas vehicles on one end and full electricity powered cars on the other.

Turrentine begins the story of modern vehicles by placing the monstrous gas-guzzlers on the gas end of the grid. “In the 1990’s people got used to V8’s.” Skip ahead to the approximate birth of the Prius in 1995 and the future of cars can proceed. But hybrid technology isn’t efficient enough to be the ultimate answer.

“We want to extend the range of the electric vehicle,” said Turrentine. One of the issues is that the battery begins to get expensive. The Prius is adaptable nowadays because the electric engine is relatively inexpensive, about $2,500, he said.

In 2006 Tom Stephens, General Motors group vice president for their Powertrain division stated, “GM plans to introduce a new hybrid system annually for the next several years, each offering different levels of affordability, fuel savings and performance.”

This sudden change of course for GM is indicative of the rapid shift that has been taking place in the auto industry since the introduction of the hybrid.

The next, environmentally friendly vehicle that Turrentine calls “a long shot” is the extended range electric vehicle. The EREV has ten more miles of grid powered effectiveness than the PHEV, but it is also a rich man’s car.

According the GM the vehicle may be advertised in showrooms as early as 2010. Turrentine says that the size and the complexity of the engine would make it extremely expensive, but as with the PHEV it may eventually cost less than a conventional hybrid. GM credits this to the fact that the EREV requires no transmission, unlike the standard hybrid, whose transmission is incredibly complex.