TOKYO--The Prius minivan hybrid due later this year will be the first standard hybrid from Toyota Motor with a lithium ion battery.
But the advanced lightweight power pack will appear only in the Japanese version of the car, a person familiar with the plan said last week.
The U.S. version will stick with the heavier nickel metal hydride batteries used in the current Prius hatchback and Toyota's other gasoline-electric vehicles.
Toyota is using lithium batteries in the Japan-spec Prius minivan to open up more interior room and allow for three rows of seats, as preferred by Japanese customers, the source said.
The Prius V minivan shown at this year's Detroit auto show had only two rows of seats, while the Prius Plus variant shown last week in Geneva has three rows.
Using a bulkier nickel metal battery requires the battery to consume space in a console between the driver and passenger seats.
"We are doing it only for cabin configuration considerations," the source said.
Toyota spokesman Paul Nolasco said the company couldn't comment on future product plans.
Separately, Japan's Nikkei business daily reported last week that the minivan version of the Prius would go on sale in Japan next month and start at ¥3 million, or about $36,590, when equipped with a lithium ion battery.
A lower-grade version with a nickel metal hydride battery will also be offered, starting at about $28,660.
Toyota has long said it will reserve lithium batteries for plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles while it continues to use nickel metal batteries in traditional hybrids.
But an executive told Automotive News last month that the first standard hybrid with a lithium power pack would arrive soon.
(Source: Automotive News)