August 09, 2007
Toyota Slips 2 Years On Lithium Battery Hybrids

The Wall Street Journal reports Toyota has slipped in its schedule to bring out a Prius based on lithium ion batteries.

Toyota Motor Corp., which used the green image of its gasoline-electric Toyota Prius to propel a U.S. sales surge, has decided to delay by one to two years the launches of new high-mileage hybrids with lithium-ion battery technology because of potential safety problems. The slowdown could offer General Motors Corp. and other rivals a chance to narrow the gap in the race to define future clean-vehicle technology.

Until recently, Toyota was preparing to roll out a dozen new and redesigned hybrids using new lithium-ion battery technology in the U.S. between 2008 and 2010. Its hybrids now use nickel-metal-hydride batteries. But safety concerns with the lithium-ion technology have forced Toyota to back away from that timetable, people familiar with the company's strategy say.

Toyota is also slipping plans for hybrids for other models including the Tundra and Sequoia.

Toyota is going to delay the next rev of the Prius and reengineer it to use less capable NiMH batteries instead of lithium.

Officially, the car was not postponed because Toyota had never published an introduction date, but such a decision would have major implications: reverting to nickel-metal hydride batteries in today's Prius means finding room for a larger and heavier power pack. A Toyota spokesman, John Hanson, said that while the company saw "huge potential" in lithium-ion batteries, it wanted to assure future Prius buyers the same levels of affordability and reliability they experience in today's models.

But Toyota really has introduced an unexpected delay in their plans.

Speaking in February, Toyota chief Katsuaki Watanabe told BusinessWeek that the next-generation Prius, expected in late 2008 or early 2009, would use li-ions (see, 3/5/07, "Toyota's Bid for a Better Battery"). But in recent months, Toyota appears to be having difficulties meeting that timeline.

Meanwhile GM has selected batteries from A123 Systems to make next gen hybrids.

General Motors Corp. (GM) said Thursday it has an agreement with battery developer A123 Systems to create a battery cell for the auto maker's planned Chevrolet Volt electric car, a move that could help the auto maker win a global hybrid-electric vehicle race that currently is dominated by Toyota Motor Corp. (TM).

During a speech here, GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said A123 will be a key supplier for GM's E-Flex system, which essentially is the propulsion designed to power the Volt and other electric cars the auto maker hopes to make. E-Flex uses an electric motor to drive a vehicle, backed up by a more traditional engine for when battery power is not adequate.

Bob Lutz says the A123 Systems battery design avoids the thermal issues that cause some lithium ion batteries to catch fire. If A123 Systems can pull this off - and at an affordable price - then pluggable hybrids will take off in a big way. GM would score big time.

We need some big steps forward in battery technology so that electric power can replace gasoline and diesel fuel for most transportation needs. With great batteries the peak in world oil production will be easy to handle. Without great batteries our post-peak living standards will take much bigger hits as oil production declines.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 August 09 06:21 PM  Energy Electric Cars

Ranjit Mathoda said at August 9, 2007 6:39 PM:

Tesla Motors just passed a major certification test for the safety of its Lithium Ion pack.

Could Toyota be overtaken?

Fat Man said at August 9, 2007 10:43 PM:

"We need some big steps forward in battery technology"

How far away from the absolute chemical limits of batteries are we? Lithium is the most electro-positive substance there is. I am not sure what the oxidant is in Lithium batteries, but it can't be that low in the electro-negative series. There has to be a container and some electrodes, but there must be a theoretical limit.

Innovation Catalyst said at August 10, 2007 8:56 AM:

This is a BIG step backwards for Toyota. Other manufacturers - A123 and Altairnano - have solved the safety issue and are moving forward. Why can't Toyota negotiate a deal with one of them?

Julian Morrison said at August 10, 2007 1:23 PM:

Tesla is selling their battery pack as a component to other EV manufacturers. Toyota could almost have bought them off the shelf!

Brett Bellmore said at August 11, 2007 11:35 AM:

Fat Man, we're quite a long ways from the limit as yet, because the battery doesn't have to incorporate the oxidizer. You're driving the car through an atmosphere full of a pretty good oxidizer, after all. And using air as the oxidizer nicely circumvents the problem of high energy density batteries being incendinary bombs.

As I understand it the energy density of aluminum/air batteries is more than adequate for replacing gasoline, though there are a number of technical problems to overcome as yet.

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