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Toyota hybrid to get lithium ion batteries

Automotive News reports on Toyota's plan to start using lithium ion batteries in some hybrids.

Automotive News
Toyota Prius plug-in
Toyota's new plug-in Prius will use lithium ion batteries, as will some future hybrid models. Josh Miller/CNET

TOKYO--Toyota soon will use lithium ion batteries in a standard hybrid vehicle for the first time, as it slowly moves from older nickel metal hydride technology.

The lithium ion batteries will debut "in the very near future" in a Japan-market hybrid, a person familiar with the matter said. He declined to name the model or give a launch date.

But Toyota is turning to lithium for the model because it will free up more interior space, he said. As an example, he cited the dilemma of wedging more bulky nickel metal hydride batteries into the center console of the current hybrid version of the Japan-market Estima minivan.

"When it is necessary for the size of the vehicle to use compact batteries, we will use lithium ion," the person said. "For example, the Estima hybrid is the right sized vehicle for those kind of compact batteries. And whether we'll sell that model in the United States is not decided yet."

Toyota has announced plans to use lithium ion batteries in plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles. But using the lightweight, high-density packs in a standard gasoline-electric hybrid is a new tack.

Rivals such as Nissan and Honda are putting lithium ion batteries in hybrid vehicles. The new Infiniti M hybrid gets lithium power packs, as will the next-generation Honda Civic hybrid. The batteries are seen as an advancement because they are lighter and more powerful than the nickel metal batteries used in hybrids such as the Toyota Prius.

Despite Toyota's plans to equip the hybrid with a lithium ion battery, the source reconfirmed Toyota's basic stance that nickel metal hydride packs will remain the mainstay of its hybrid fleet.

Toyota says hybrid cars require batteries that rapidly discharge and recharge, something better suited to nickel metal batteries.

Shinzo Kobuki, senior managing director in charge of Toyota's battery technology, said late last year that Toyota could be using nickel metal technology for as long as another decade.

(Source: Automotive News)