Toyota: New Hybrids, Li-ion Battery Production in '09

By Scott Doggett June 11, 2008

The iQ minicompact has been cited as one of Toyota's green initiatives to reduce the size and weight of its future vehicles.

By Scott Doggett, Contributor

Toyota Motor Corp. promised two new hybrid vehicles and the start of lithium-ion battery production next year as part of a major push to accelerate development of small electric vehicles for mass production, company executives said Wednesday.

The two hybrids – one badged a Toyota, the other a Lexus – will debut at the 2009 Detroit auto show in January along with the third-generation Prius sedan, also due next year, company executives said at the Toyota Environmental Forum in Tokyo.

Details regarding the Lexus were unavailable, but Masatami Takimoto, Toyota's executive vice president in charge of research and development, said the forthcoming Toyota hybrid "is a totally new car" and larger than the Prius.

For the redesigned Prius, Toyota will stick with the current generation's nickel-metal hydride batteries. The much-anticipated lithium-ion batteries, lighter in weight and much powerful than nickel-metal hydrides, will debut in Toyota's first plug-in gas-electric hybrid, due in 2010, he said.

Additionally, Toyota will establish a battery research department later this month to advance the development of an innovative next-generation battery that can outperform a lithium-ion battery, company President Katsuaki Watanabe said. He said plug-in gas-electric hybrid vehicles, which can be recharged from a home electrical outlet and used as electric-only vehicles for short trips and as conventional hybrid vehicles for longer trips, represent the most promising approach to ecological driving.

For Fleets

Toyota executives reconfirmed earlier announcements that the plug-in hybrid vehicle introduced in 2010 will be earmarked for fleet customers in Japan, Europe and the United States.

Neither they nor Toyota representatives in the U.S. would provide additional details about the plug-in hybrid vehicles, including when they might be available to individual customers.

After years of growing it model sizes, Toyota is now working on initiatives to reduce vehicle size and weight, the executives said, citing the iQ as an example.

The minicompact, which is planned for launch later this year, offers seating for four in a body just under than 10 feet long. By comparison, the two-seater 2008 Smart Fortwo is 8 feet 8 inches long and the four-seater 2008 Mini Cooper is 11 feet 8 inches long.

Better Than Li-ion

Toyota said that Panasonic EV Energy Company will begin research to advance the development of an innovative next-generation battery that can outperform a lithium-ion battery.

Toyota and Matsushita Electric Industrial Company, the consumer electronics giant, jointly formed Panasonic EV Energy more than a decade ago to develop, manufacture and sell nickel-metal hydride rechargeable batteries for use in electric cars.

Panasonic EV Energy will begin limited production of lithium-ion batteries in 2009 and move into full-scale production of them in 2010, Watanabe said.

Lithium-ion batteries, now common in laptops, produce more power and are smaller than nickel-metal hydride batteries used in hybrids now.

More Hybrids

Japan's top automaker, which leads the industry in gas-electric hybrids, has said it will rev up hybrid sales to 1 million a year sometime after 2010.

Hybrids reduce pollution and emissions that are linked to global warming by switching between a gas engine and an electric motor to deliver better mileage than comparable standard cars. Their popularity is growing amid soaring oil prices and worries about global warming.

"Without focusing on measures to address global warming and energy issues, there can be no future for our auto business," Watanabe said.

He said developing breakthrough technology was critical to allow Toyota and other automakers to continue to grow while avoiding damage to the environment.

1.5 Million Sold

The Prius, which has been on sale for more than a decade, recently reached cumulative sales of 1 million vehicles. When including other Toyota hybrids, the company said it sold 1.5 million hybrids so far around the world.

Toyota said it is also working on fuel-cell vehicles, which produce no pollution by running on the energy produced when hydrogen combines with oxygen in the air to produce water. Green Car Advisor recently posted a report on Toyota's fuel-cell advances.

The automaker is also improving mileage of all its models, including gasoline engine and clean diesel vehicles, Watanabe said.

The company plans to set up more environmentally friendly factories that will produce fewer carbon gas emissions and develop production techniques that require less energy, using solar energy and planting trees, he said.

Camry Down Under

On Tuesday, Toyota said it will start making the Camry hybrid in Australia and Thailand as part of its efforts to step up production of "green" cars around the world.

The two plants were only Toyota's second and third overseas production point for the Camry hybrid after its Kentucky plant in the United States. The only other nation where Toyota manufactures its hybrids besides Japan is China.

Toyota, close to overtaking General Motors Corp. as the world's No. 1 automaker, faces competition from rivals, which are also all working on ecological technology.

For 2010, GM is planning a Chevrolet Volt plug-in electric vehicle, while Nissan Motor Co. is planning electric vehicles for the U.S. and Japan. Honda Motor Co. is also developing new hybrid models, targeting sales of 500,000 hybrids a year sometime after 2010.

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