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Toyota: Electric cars 'too expensive' for mainstream

Despite all the attention to electric vehicles based on lithium ion batteries, Toyota is sticking with nickel-based batteries for most of its hybrids to address the mass market.

Electric vehicles are the clear favored technology for concept cars at the Frankfurt Motor Show this week. But Toyota, the leader in hybrid cars, thinks that the high cost of the lithium ion batteries will keep electric cars from penetrating the mass market for another decade.

Over the past three years, Toyota secretly tested lithium ion batteries as a potential replacement for the nickel metal hydride batteries now used in the Prius, according to a Bloomberg report

In its tests, Toyota concluded that lithium ion batteries were safe and reliable, but the higher cost doesn't justify a complete shift over for Toyota's hybrids, executives said. As a result, the company will remain with nickel-based batteries for most of its hybrid cars, according to the report.

Toyota will start testing plug-in Priuses that use lithium-ion batteries but is sticking with current nickel-based batteries for most of its hybrids. Toyota

The lighter weight that lithium ion batteries offer over other battery types has led automakers to that technology for all-electric sedans such as the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt extended-range electric vehicle.

Toyota, too, this week unveiled a plug-in Toyota Prius based on the 2010 model that uses a lithium ion battery. It expects to start leasing them to fleet operators early next year. But when it comes to the "mass market," the company still considers costs and range of battery-electric vehicles a barrier until 2020.

"Electric vehicles of today are less costly than in 1990s, but if you compare them with the other vehicles out there they are still too expensive," Executive Vice President Takeshi Uchiyamada said at a news conference at the Frankfurt show. "Unless there is a very big breakthrough in battery costs I don't think electric vehicles can take a large market share."

Among the many electric-vehicle concepts expected this week are four sedans from Renault, including the Fluence ZE which can work with Better Place's automated battery-switching stations.