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Toyota seeks the ultimate battery

Posted by: Ian Rowley on June 11, 2008

A big chunk of the current debate over the future of hybrids and electric vehicles surrounds the readiness of lithium ion batteries. The next generation batteries are more powerful and lighter than the nickel metal hydride cells used in today’s hybrids. They’re also key to the introduction of viable electric vehicles.

Problem is, no major manufacturer is yet selling a mass production model which uses lithium batteries. Hybrid leader Toyota, for instance, says the next generation of the Prius will once again use nickel metal cells with only a plug-in Prius version, due in 2010, set to use li-ions. Honda, meanwhile, has said its upcoming hybrids will also use nickel metal batteries. GM has also said the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid will use li-ions but it’s not expected until late 2010 and looks like being expensive.

With that in mind, it was interesting to listen to Toyota chief Katsuaki Watanabe and other execs yesterday running through the company’s environmental plans at a green-tinged forum in Tokyo. Watanabe reiterated Toyota’s stance on batteries for hybrids, noting that itis building a new nickel metal battery plant with a joint venture partner Matsushita, which will open in 2010. Li-ion production will begin in 2009 in small quantities, before ramping up in 2010 for the plug-in Priuses which will initially be for fleet customers.

Toyota is also coy about the short term chances for li-ion powered electric vehicles. Even if li-ion batteries prove safe and resilient, it reckons hybrids and their plug-in cousins will be the way to go in the next few years or at least until even more powerful batteries are developed. As things stand, EVs won’t be much use for anything other than as small, city commuter vehicles.

To that end, Watanabe revealed that this month Toyota is setting up a new special division in Japan that will research batteries which “far outperform” lithium ion cells. The new division will start with 50 engineers, rising to 100 within two years with a view. The bad news, according to subsequent media reports in Japan, is that commercialization isn’t expected until 2030. Clearly, Toyota’s rep for thinking long term remains well founded.

Reader Comments


June 12, 2008 8:35 AM

Hybrids will it be.


June 12, 2008 2:04 PM

An electric car is virtually maintenance free - thus, no one should expect any of the top manufacturers to seriously consider building fully electric cars that would destroy their replacement parts and maintenance revenue stream.

Not gonna happen - even if gas prices rise to $10 a gallon. The best consumers can hope for is the introduction of plug-in gas/electric hybrids.

kent beuchert

June 12, 2008 2:39 PM

Apparently Toyota, which oon ly a few months ago was falsely claimingthat li ion batteries were dangerous, has at least learned something by now. However, they will trail the Volt by two years and probably will never recover. Toyota knows nothing about batteries and apparently believes that EESotr devices won't work. If they do, Toyota's quest will be another Don Quixote exercise in irrelevance. Toyota has so completely fouled up with respect to plug-ins that they need a brain transplant. Perhaps something to replace those 80 years old guys running the company. Running the company in the ground, I would say.


June 12, 2008 2:52 PM

combination's of electric ,gas ,and compressed air ,each recharging the other ,as it goes ,lighter ,stronger ,smaller ,carbon ect. structural engineers ,high tech. nerds,and through in some money . remember you have to let the powers that be make all the money ,or it wont happen.if they get theirs we get ours !!


June 13, 2008 1:37 PM

hahaha kent is such a bonehead.
Those 80 year old executives are running ToMoCo into the ground? This GM fanboy is so ridiculous. Listen kid, don't comment about things you don't know anything about, it makes you look stupid.


June 14, 2008 4:03 PM

1) 30 years ago, auto "experts" and Big3 said the Japanese can't build full size cars like the Buick.
2) 15 years ago,auto "experts" and Big3 said the Japanese can't build luxury cars like the Mercedes,BWM, Cadillac.
3) 10 years go,auto "experts" and Big3 said the Japanese is stupid in building money losing hybrid cars because there is a limited market for them.
4) 5 years ago, auto "experts" and Big3 said the Japanese can't build full size trucks like the F-150,Dodge RAM and Silverado.
5) Today, auto "experts" and Big3 said the Japanese can't have Li-ion battery available by 2010.

1) Toyota Avalon, Acura Legend
2) Lexus, Infinity
3) Prius, Camry, Civic, RX400, Highlander, LS600, GS460
4) Tundra, Titan
5) Toyota's Li-ion power pack will be delivered by or before 2010.


June 16, 2008 7:51 AM

I think that EVs being mainstream will be a reality very soon. With peak oil being a fact, we HAVE to find alternatives to conventional combustion vehicles. Electric is the obvious choice and the more R&D that is invested in batteries, the better it is for consumers.


June 16, 2008 5:03 PM

NS is right. You can't really talk from a perspective of choice any more.

Basically, the island IS sinking. Find a way to make it float or you will drown. There is no option B.

Besides all of this is just shifts in the types of economies we've grown accustomed to. The conversion may be a bit painful (i.e. expensive to make, expensive to buy) but I believe in the wash. Hell VCRs used to cost 5 grand for heaven's sake.


June 17, 2008 2:26 PM

As plug power rates continue to increase with energy costs (nearly $0.20/kWh now), where's the advantage?

Adrian P Nye

June 19, 2008 3:10 PM

You Chevy Volt fans, read a little history on the EV1. GM is using the Volt as a PR stunt to gain green points like they have in the past, while actually committing very little to it. They will say the cost is too high, because they chose to produce so few that it has to be too high.

I expect Toyota to first lead in Mass Production of lithium battery hybrids, and then eventually mass production of pure electric vehicles.

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