We mentioned last week that Fuji Heavy Industries (FIH) has announced plans to launch a hybrid model electric car that will use a lithium-ion battery pack.. This pack, developed as a joint venture between FIH and NEC, is supposed to bring two major advantages - better energy density and longer usable life. The specific energy density for lith-ion packs is up to three times that of the NiMH technology, which means improved packaging or more engine-off time for smaller hybrid vehicles. This should be no surprise to those who have been paying attention to the last decade of consumer electronics. The second stated reason is much more interesting and disputable.

FIH and NEC claims the pack will be good for 15 years or 150,000 miles, which is 50% longer than the warranty offered by Toyota for its NiMH hybrid packs and would mean a big step forward towards claiming that the pack will last the life of the vehicle. However, lith-ion batteries aren?t known for their long service life due to internal oxidization. This means that either NEC must have made a big breakthrough in lith-ion technology, or Subaru hybrid- and electric-car owners will be joining iPod owners in guerilla street-art campaigns. We?re guessing that the former is true, but no detail has been released on whatever breakthroughs NEC has accomplished. There?s also the issue of lith-ions and their dislike of deep discharges, but it?s likely that this can be at least partially alleviated through smart charge management (or perhaps NEC has fixed this problem as well).
This battery technology will be marketed to other automotive OEMs by FIH to defer some of the cost, since it?s unlikely that Subaru?s usage will pay off the initial investment quickly enough. Given that GM owns 20% of FIH, can we expect to see the General using this new technology? Hopefully that?s the case for all parties involved.



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