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Toyota may be on top of the world right now having the brought the first practical modern hybrid cars to production and selling more hybrids than anyone else, but that doesn't mean they are in the lead on everything green car related. They just announced a test fleet of plug-in hybrids but thanks to their decision to stick with Panasonic as a battery supplier, they are clearly struggling with lithium ion battery technology.
At the Management Briefing Seminars this week, Toyota's Justin Ward said that lithium ion is not ready for the automotive market. More precisely, although you won't hear this publicly from Toyota, Panasonic's lithium chemistry is not ready. As Bob Lutz told the conference on Thursday not all lithium ion is created equal.

Panasonic made the odd decision to stick with the same cobalt-oxide cathode chemistry that's used in most consumer electronics batteries. That's the same chemistry that has an unfortunate tendency toward thermal runaway (fiery explosions) if not handled properly. A123 uses iron-phosphate that is much more stable and like Altairnano's titanate chemistry is able to handle faster charging and more temperature variation.

It looks like Toyota made the wrong choice of technology and is now paying the price by having to delay the next generation Prius and also playing down the overall prospects for plug-in hybrids and EVs to cover their tracks.

[Source: Automotive News]

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      I think it is obvious that Toyota was caught by surprise not only GM's decisive action to go ahead with the plugin hybrids but also the company's fierce effort to bring a vehicle into production.

      Toyota seems dazed.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Toyota is known for its ability to recover quickly from mistakes. It will be interesting to see how quickly it fixes this one -- and just how they do it.

      Maybe some other technology may come along to make LiON obsolete... Because of its atomic weight, lithium is likely to be the long-term winner in the weight/power ratio. But something else might win the cost/power game.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Toyota is using standard NiMH batteries in their prototype plug-in Prius, as it is reliable and durable. The energy density of NiMH is much less than LiIon, and their plug-in only has an 8 mile EV range, but they could beat others to market, perhaps as soon as next year.

      In the long run, LiIon will eventually dominate the auto industry. The price of LiIon batteries is going down with improvments in production, but the price of nickle (and nickle hydride batteries) is going up. Soon, LiIon will be cheaper per Kwh stored.