Toyota’s hybrid electric vehicles look like their going to get a boost in power and efficiency in the next few years as they make the switch to lithium-ion battery technology.
Nickel-Metal Hydride [NiMH] rechargeable battery technology has been around for years, is exceptionally reliable, and has been the mainstay of Toyota’s hybrid electric vehicle program since the Toyota Prius was first introduced in 1997. Lithium-ion [Li-ion] is a newer technology which is more energy-dense than NiMH. This makes sense for use in automobiles, as weight directly impacts fuel economy, miles per gallon in the case of conventional and hybrid electric vehicles like the Toyota Prius, or range in the case of pure electric vehicles like the Tesla Model S.
Toyota has held off on adopting lithium-ion battery technology for a long time, which isn’t entirely unlike Toyota, who is known for producing extremely reliable vehicles. Adopting an unproven technology like lithium-ion could have had disastrous consequences for that image. On the other hand, the last few years of advancing battery technology have improved the reliability of lithium-ion, and finally it looks like Toyota is make the switch.
Toyota and Panasonic have been in partnership for years, and they will begin producing a new line of lithium-ion batteries. Toyota has said they’ll be producing about 200,000 units per year, but hasn’t said if it will be installing them in a next-generation Prius or other vehicle.
Of course, it would make perfect sense, increasing range and decreasing power consumption. I would predict Toyota putting a lithium-ion battery in the next-generation Prius or other hybrid electric vehicle. Toyota could even start producing their own pure electric vehicle if they wanted, because right now the Toyota RAV4 EV’s powertrain is supplied by Tesla Motors [and uses Li-ion batteries]. Toyota could make it cheaper if they produced it themselves.