There are already lithium-ion batteries in some Toyota vehicles (the Prius Plug-in Hybrid, the RAV4 EV and the European Prius+, for example), but the company's standard bearer – the non-plug Prius hybridstill relies on nickel metal hydride (NiMH) cells. But, the future belongs to li-ion, and that's why Toyota will soon increase its production of the higher-energy-density batteries sixfold with an eye to putting them into the Prius at an unspecified point in the future, according to the Nikkei.

The plan, the Nikkei says, is for Toyota and production partner Panasonic to build a new production line that will be able to make 200,000 li-ion batteries a year (why does that number sound so familiar?). The companies will spend about 20 billion yen (US $194 million) on the project. There's no way Toyota can put li-ion cells in all of its hybrids from that one line, though, since the company sells over a million hybrids a year.

Lithium-ion batteries are smaller, lighter and more energy dense than NiMH ones, but they're also more expensive. They are in widespread use in plug-in electric vehicles from a variety of auto manufacturers. Toyota is also working on future battery technologies, like solid state packs.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 25 Comments
      Spec
      • 2 Years Ago
      Toyota had locked up a bunch of contracts for NiMH supplies so they were sticking to it. But reduced weight of Li-Ions are too much to ignore so I guess they will finally make the switch.
      David Murray
      • 2 Years Ago
      This is good news, as the increased production should continue to lower prices on the batteries. I wish Toyota would make a bold move and make ALL of their hybrids into plug-in hybrids. Seriously. Imagine if you wanted a Prius or a Camry hybrid, you're only choice is a plug-in version. You're only decision as a buyer should be whether your plug-in hybrid has 4 Kwh or 8Kwh battery (or something like that) The reason I think this would work is because I don't honestly believe the plug-in version should cost all that much more than a traditional hybrid. And if suddenly ALL of their vehicles were plug-ins then they'd have the increased production to get the cost even that much lower. So I'm thinking it would increase the entry-level cost of a hybrid by $1,500 to $3,000. The result would be somewhat lower sales at first. But imagine instead of selling 150,000 regular hybrids per year, they could sell maybe 100,000 plug-in hybrids! Wow! Imagine what that would do to the market, it would turn everything upside-down! The charging station business would start booming too!
        skierpage
        • 2 Years Ago
        @David Murray
        It would be nice, but there isn't (yet) much market demand for a plug over a hybrid. Toyota won't go plug-in Prius unless the way to their next mpg target requires a battery so large (5 kWh?) that not being able to plug it in would be silly. Toyota would also do it if plugging in becoming everyone else's competitive advantage, but Honda and VW's big plans for plug-in hybrids keep shrinking as the future gets closer. Also, there seems to be a limit to the power and max speed that the motor-generators can supply through Toyota's HSD. I hope not, because Toyota and Lexus could standardize on inline 4s and get ALL the performance boost for sport models from beefy motors and batteries with high discharge rates. Outside the Prius team there must be thousands of Toyota engineers still thinking V6-V8-turbo! for premium models, but the Model S (and the NSX and BMW i8) show that's old-school dumb thinking. Big batteries and powerful motors deliver high performance AND low emissions/running costs.
        Actionable Mango
        • 2 Years Ago
        @David Murray
        Seems like a great idea to me. I've wondered myself why there are so many hybrids and so few plugin versions. I remember very expensive plugin conversions for the Prius, so clearly there is demand for it.
          2 wheeled menace
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Actionable Mango
          Those chargers are significantly overpriced, spec. If you had a little 8kw-hr battery, you wouldn't need a large charger anyway. Plug it in over night to a 1000W charger and you're good. I've seen good quality 1000W-1500W chargers in the $200 range. Fine enough for a small plugin hybrid battery. The big companies will gouge whenever possible.
          2 wheeled menace
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Actionable Mango
          You have fine points. My mid-grade Chinese chargers from 2009 are still functioning perfectly though :) These were made with quality and not disposability in mind, which is rare - but not difficult to specify out - it's all in the R&D and quality of parts. The $200 figure is the price of a modified 1kW meanwell charger. Meanwell makes wonderful power supplies once you get into the high end. These could be changed to output high voltages. The ports and charger plugs can be mass produced and the cost can be reduced greatly. They can be made robust and cheap. Just think about how cheap all the parts of a computer are. Or how cheap aftermarket parts are for your car compared to OEM... time and volume drops all the fat off the prices of everything. High voltage wiring is nothing special. It's all in the insulation. Since the voltage is very high, the amperage is very low. If you have a 400v battery, and you're going to charge it at 2000W, then you're pushing an astounding 5 amps into it, lol. One could use 14, maybe 16 gauge wires to pull that off. I'm just saying.... if we're talking about plug in hybrids, we're talking about chargers that can be smaller and thus much cheaper. The charger should not factor into the cost much at all. By the way, have you heard of that one company that has a patent on using the car's motor controller as the charger? Like, it takes the AC in and converts it to the DC voltage of the battery using some kind of regen. That could reduce the charger cost even moreso, ya? :)
          Chris M
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Actionable Mango
          AC Propulsion figured out a way to use circuits in the inverter for charge controlling, and automotive AC motors need an inverter anyway. The result is a reduction in cost. AC Propulsion calls it "Reductive charging", and Tesla Motors had licensed it from AC Propulsion.
          mustang_sallad
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Actionable Mango
          2 wheeled menace - Big companies are also good at building products to automotive industry specs and building them such that they last 10 years on 100,000 copies without major warranty issues. I've done DIY projects and I've worked on major OEM EV projects, it's important not to confuse the two. A few of the major OEM suppliers are working on 3.3kW chargers that will come down below the $1K range, and you're right that you could reduce cost somewhat with a 1.5kW charger ($200 is a big stretch), but I really don't think that'll fly in the market. The cost differential between 3.3kW and 1.5kW wouldn't justify the hit you take in terms of performance and hence marketing value. Also, don't forget that the charge port adds cost in terms of body panel modifications and the modified harness. This is high voltage wiring which is not exactly like running 12V wires - it requires shielding and robust connectors. And lets not trivialize the added cost of the battery capacity required to make plugging in worth while. I'm all for more PEVs, but it's naive to assume there won't be a HUGE slice in the market for hybridized vehicles without the extra battery and charging hardware.
          GoodCheer
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Actionable Mango
          Spec: If the car can do regen braking, then it has a charger right? All you need is some switches to take power from the grid rather than taking it back from the motor.
          Spec
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Actionable Mango
          It turns out that chargers are actually pretty expensive right now. So adding a charger adds $1K to the car. A really good charger may cost $2K. But hopefully as the market increases in size, the cost of those chargers goes down.
        Spec
        • 2 Years Ago
        @David Murray
        Very good point. Making all hybrids with Li-Ions will grow the Li-Ion market and thus push prices down through mass manufacturing. When it comes down to it, the only big difference between a hybrid and a PHEV is a charger and more battery. And the only difference between a PHEV and pure EV is dropping the ICE drive train and making the batter even bigger.
          skierpage
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Spec
          @Actionable Mango, nothing in the Prius is vacuum- or belt-driven; I think the same is true for Voltec. Most cars with stop-start are moving towards only electrically-powered accessories. Spec is right, the continuum is stop-start mild hybrid, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, then a big jump to electric only.
          Spec
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Spec
          Yes, I definitely over simplified it. You do need to beef up the motor & controller sizes. But good hybrid implementations already have most of their components running on electricity since the engine turns off completely at slow speeds. Someone needs to build a good cheap electric-based air-source heat pump though for cars that could be used for both AC & heat.
          Actionable Mango
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Spec
          I like this in spirit, but I think you've oversimplified it a bit. In addition to dropping the ICE and bigger battery you'll need to covert anything vacuum- and belt-driven to electrical, and you'll have to add an electrical heater. Also you'll need a much, much more powerful electric motor because you've lost the ICE.
          DaveMart
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Spec
          Bigger electric motors are not cheap. The difference between the cost of a hybrid and a plug in remains substantial.
        2 wheeled menace
        • 2 Years Ago
        @David Murray
        It would not he hard at all to do all the hybrids as plugins. Beef up the motor and controller just a little. Add a few kw-hrs of battery. Call it a day. All the components are already there with a hybrid car, they just need to be upsized a little.
      Sasparilla Fizz
      • 2 Years Ago
      Of course if you're going to buy a Toyota hybrid and want to keep it for a long time - NiMH (when done right as Toyota does) means the battery will last the life of the car and keep its capacity throughout that time - Li ion does not do that. Hybrid batts get an immense amount of cycles (they're much smaller than plug in batteries and constantly getting charged/drained) which is not good for longterm Li capacity. For a Toyota hybrid give me NiMH any day of the week. Li will have significant capacity falloff over time and would turn their Li hybrid vehicles into better sell'em before 60k mile temporaries, so you're not stuck holding the bag on battery issues later (like Honda's have been). JMHO...
      Tony Kalniev
      • 2 Years Ago
      the mention that lithium ion batteries are more expensive is kinda controversial. as they have more energy density and smaller size, the cost varient would be balanced out as fewer batteries would be needed. and the benefits would be much greater in terms of milage...i say this because now you CAN get a 12v600ah li-ion battery...create the total voltage for the prius and voila! cheap and simple if you ask me
      Tony Kalniev
      • 2 Years Ago
      But im waiting for those new batteries coming out that can charge in 1 minute. that removes the ehat issue too so much longer life span ... lets keep fingers crossed!
      • 2 Years Ago
      For a detailed explanation of the reasons why Toyota may be interested in increasing signficantly its Li-ion production, see: http://seekingalpha.com/article/1542112-are-ford-and-tesla-pushing-toyota-to-adopt-li-ion-batteries
      • 2 Years Ago
      I don't know if this is a good thing or a bad one. what you need from a hybrid traction battery is high charge and discharge rate. not high watt hours per kilo. think of the boing 787 dreamliners fires. all lithium batteries. the NIMH batteries barely last the life of the car (you get about 150k) and cost like $4000 to replace although their are some companies that rebuild them far less like www.priusrebuilders.com only time will tell if this is a smart move on part of toyota
      JonathanE
      • 2 Years Ago
      Can we please have the 7-seat Prius+ (a.k.a Prius Alpha) in the USA now? Supposedly the poor availability of Lithium batteries was the primary obstacle.
      2 wheeled menace
      • 2 Years Ago
      Nice. Wondering what the new generation of Prius will bring. We are due for a new one soon. This means i should be able to get a Gen II cheaper, rite? ;D
        Rob Mahrt
        • 2 Years Ago
        @2 wheeled menace
        I think they are on 6 year cycles (maybe 5), with first model year of current version in 2010 so we should see a new one not until 2015 or 2016, so earliest 1.5 years away, latest 2.5 years? I would say that release will be the move to all LiIon, hopefully.
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