Toyota Lowers Price on Prius Replacement Batteries, Says Business Slow - For Now

By John O'Dell September 24, 2008

PriusBattery.jpg From time to time questions arise about hybrid batteries: How much does it cost to replace them; how long do they last?

Well, we got some answers.

Toyota Motor Corp., whose Prius hybrid, in one form or another, has been on the road in the U.S. since the end of 1999, said Tuesday that it has lowered the replacement price of battery packs for its first generation Prius by almost 30 percent and for the present generation (2004-now) Prius by a bit more than 10 percent.

In dollars (which are sinking faster than the Titanic) that's a new price of $2,299 for a battery pack for the first generation cars and $2,588 for the present generation batteries.

Previously, Toyota would have charged $2,985 for a Prius battery replacement for either generation.

The carmaker isn't doing much business in replacement batteries though - with some 500,000 Priuses now on the road in this country fewer than 300 battery packs have been replaced, and many of those were batteries damaged in accidents.

Most also were replaced under warranty, says Toyota environmental spokesman John Hanson.

The upshot is that Toyota still doesn't really know how long the Prius' nickel-metal hydride batteries will last, but figures they've got a lot of life in them .

"There are a lot of cars out there with 200,000 miles on them and they are still going strong," he told Green Car Advisor.

One thing the carmaker does know, though, is that a lot of Prius owners are determined to keep their cars for a long, long time.

With that in mind, and with the inevitability of battery packs for ageing Priuses finally wearing out someday (mostly, they'll just lose their capacity to hold a really good change), Hanson said Toyota also is now studying the feasibility of setting up a U.S. factory to remanufacture Prius batteries.

That would make the replacement cost - now about the same as replacing an internal combustion engine that has seen its last days - even less expensive.

Toyota can do that because it has kept its battery development and manufacturing in-house.  It owns a controlling 60 percent stake in Panasonic EV Energy Co., a joint venture with Matsushita Electric.

It's a little off topic, but just to refresh those of you who care a lot about battery development, Toyota said earlier this year that it plans to build a second NiMH (always reminded me of one of my daughter's favorite kid's movies - the Secret of NiMH) battery factory in Japan to increase production to meet global demand - yes, Virginia, Toyota sells its batteries to other carmakers.

The company figures it will be making a million nickel-metal hydride batteries a year by 2010.

Panasonic EV also is building a facility to manufacture the new advanced lithium-ion batteries that are essential to plug-in hybrids and to the all-electric vehicles many figure will be on the market sometime after the turn of the decade.

Toyota will begin leasing small numbers of lithium-ion powered plug-ins to fleet customers in late 2009.

Figure at least a year before the company's gathered sufficient data from the fleets to move to the next step - retail sales of the cars.

John O'Dell, Senior Editor

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