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Toyota seeks the ultimate battery

Posted by: Ian Rowley on June 12, 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

Tariq Shah

June 13, 2008 3:39 AM

How about a 7 passenger van, with a 2.2 liter turbo hybrid engine, that does 40 mpg right now?

Oh wait, Japan has the van today, but only for the Japanese market, an dthey say they care about their American customers, yet refuse to bring it over because they are afraid it will dilute the Siennas market.

C'mon Toyota, smaller engines are what we need now.


June 13, 2008 6:06 AM

Nice Post.Posted this link in


June 13, 2008 7:12 AM

i will iove to see these lithium battries in all cars soon


June 13, 2008 7:55 AM

Until The battery becomes technologically viable ,Oil producing countries can enjoy life!!!!Toyota 2030 is very far----

mike jon

June 13, 2008 4:37 PM

That´s good news! We need to find ways to save gas, because its price will only rise. Demand is very strong.


June 16, 2008 12:41 PM

Chevy's Volt is only 24 months away. This all electric car with a range extender will use zero gasoline for most people on the average day. Lets jump on this band wagon and try to end the oil producing countries party early.

David DC

June 16, 2008 3:17 PM

People are driving incessantly. That is the problem, not the automobile design The old school idea that everybody is going to keep on living
way far away from work and that people are going to continue to raise children in communites with nothing but houses and no place to walk to is going the way of the dinosaurs. Housing that is not in mixed use communities is going to become the housing of the poor and lower classes. Look around at current suburban communites and realize how these places destroy healthy bodies. Explain how the addition of each new SUV and each house in the middle of nowhere improves the physical lives of your children? The lust for real estate has very high health costs. The vast majority of citizens in America are now obese, including the kids. This is what the car lifestyle has accomplished.


June 16, 2008 4:36 PM

Yeah, well whatever the battery choice, just wait until the car owners learn 7 years after the initial purchase they have to replace the batteries at a cost of $10,000+. Wonder what the market value of a 7 year old hybrid will be with a costly service like that hanging over it?

Marco Boonani

June 18, 2008 1:13 PM

Well if all us in North America can shed a few pounds, maybe these current batteries could carry our fat @sses around and we'd get better MPG ratios.


April 8, 2009 5:03 AM

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