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Verdict Is In: Toyota Deems Lithium-ion Too Pricey for Hybrids

Lithium-ion battery technology hit a major milestone this year when hybrid leader Toyota (s TM) announced plans to test it in road trials of 500 plug-in hybrids — marking the first time this type of battery would be used for propulsion in a Toyota vehicle. While the automaker is going ahead with that plan for plug-ins, Toyota said today that after three years of testing, it’s decided lithium-ion battery technology still isn’t ready for prime time in the regular hybrid (without a plug) Prius.


Compared with nickel-metal hydride batteries, used roughly in 2 million Toyota hybrids sold since 1997, Kazuo Tojima, senior staff engineer for batteries at the company, told Bloomberg that the benefits of lithium-ion batteries — higher efficiency and less weight — just don’t outweigh the relatively high cost.

Toyota’s verdict on hybrid battery tech highlights two key points: the growing demand for lower-cost lithium-ion batteries (which many startups are targeting), as well as the need and opportunity for other battery technologies, which startups like PowerGenix are hoping to offer in coming years.

Hybrid vehicles are somewhat of an interim solution, with much of the auto industry, and the policies that influence it, moving toward plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles. According to Global Insight, hybrids are on track to snag some 5-11 percent of the U.S. market by 2015, up from 2.2 percent in just two years ago. So while lithium-ion is increasingly the tech of choice for upcoming electric vehicles, it’s hardly the only game in town.

8 Responses to “Verdict Is In: Toyota Deems Lithium-ion Too Pricey for Hybrids”

  1. It is firmly believed with the help of “instant remote recharge” , called “revalution” , by Indian EV maker Reva and a pioneer Agassi and so forth, the EV world has dawned a brand new morn for all around the world to live in peace and harmony.

  2. NiMH cells are “good enough” technology. Toyota built the EV95 Cell, which had 95 amp-hours of capacity at 12 volts. They built these in the late 90s, and many of them are still working today!

    After Texaco (later Chevron) bought the NiMH patents, they sued Toyota for infringement. The lawsuit prevented them from making any cells larger than about 12 amp-hours, which probably led to the hybrid strategy Toyota employed with the Prius.

    Large format cells don’t come off patent protection until 2012 or so. Apparently, Toyota can get a PHEV to work with the smaller format cells.

    • Not only do I agree with the decision, I would prefer to see NiMH batteries on the PHEV. The additional cost of L-ion batteries will be multiplied by at least two and maybe three times by the need to replace them during the life of the car.

      The tradeoff, of course, is weight. Hauling around heavier batteries on long trips is a negative so such a PHEV is not indicated for one who make a lot of long trips.

      Toyota is in the business of second guessing the bulk of its potential customers.

      It is a shame that they don’t give the customer a choice. Some will choose one, and some the other.

  3. Lithium ion also has a time clock which is running independent of use. The batteries become useless just sitting there. Nickel Metal Hydride batteries, on the other hand, will sit and wait to be used. This is something to be considered by those who do not drive a lot.

  4. NiMH cells installed in RAV4 EVs are still running today, more than 10 years and 100,000+ miles after they were made.

    Note also that for a vehicle of a given size, aerodynamics, and rolling friction, some extra weight isn’t critical given an efficient regenerative braking system.

    Lithiums are also unproven with a shelf life beyond 5 or so years.