Report Toyota Will Delay Lithium Battery Intro in Hybrids
- Late last year, Toyota announced it would slow
development of some products due to concerns
about maintaining quality levels. We wondered
then if this would apply to the "next-generation"
Prius (since one generation was sold only in
Japan, that would make it Prius version 4),
expected for Model Year 2009 in fall 2008. Even
since then, Toyota has said it would include
lithium batteries, and we all hoped it might
include plug-in capabilities (see <http://www.calcars.org/carmakers.html>).
A few weeks ago, reports circulated that Toyota
would delay the introduction of lithium batteries
in the Prius. But a June 7 AP story about
Toyota's reaching its milestone of having sold
one million hybrids, said "Mitsuo Kinoshita, a
senior Toyota executive, recently denied Japanese
media reports that Toyota had given up on having
a lithium-ion battery system for the
next-generation Prius. "We're still working on
it," he told reporters.
Today's Wall Street Journal reports that lithium
is out for the 2009 model because of unresolved
issues with thermal management. Its chief
automotive reporter cites sources saying Toyota
President Katsuaki Watanabe made the call. Toyota
will instead use "more advanced" nickel-metal
hydride batteries. (NiMH has lower energy density
than Li-Ion, and the price of the raw materials
has risen sharply in recent years. But they are
fully proven and have minimal safety issues.)
We imagine the company will make a formal
statement. Meanwhile, this means two things:
First, there is clearly plenty of life left in
NiMH -- and if Toyota wanted to, there's no
reason the 2009 Prius or the "Prius derivative"
station wagon described in the WSJ couldn't be a
PHEV with a substantial electric-only low-speed range.
Second, as the WSJ story says, this improves the
chances that GM will be first with a PHEV Volt or
VUE. (And, since all carmakers watch each other
closely, this could prompt some reasoned voices
within GM to take more seriously the suggestions
that Version 1.0 of GM's first PHEVs could get to
market sooner with NiMH than with Li-Ion.)
We include the WSJ story below. It's followed by
a USA Today report on the evolution of Toyota's
goals for introducing hybrid models. The slowdown
described (one-third of 35 vehicles will have a
hybrid option around 2010) doesn't necessarily
conflict with the May statement by Toyota's
Masatami Takimoto that all its cars will be
hybrids by 2020. The article says Toyota is also
looking at diesel hybrids -- no mention of
flex-fuel hybrids, which have problems meeting
low pollution standards because of evaporative emissions.
Toyota Delays Use Of Lithium-Ion Batteries In New Prius Hybrids
By Norihiko Shirouzu norihiko.shirouzu@...
Wall Street Journal, June 13, 2007 12:42 a.m.
TOYOTA CITY, Japan Toyota Motor Corp., alarmed
by growing concern over the safety of lithium-ion
battery technology, has decided not to use that
technology for the initial versions of the
next-generation Prius gasoline-electric hybrid
car, whose launch was scheduled for the autumn of
next year, according to individuals familiar with Toyota's product plans.
The move, those individuals said, is aimed
chiefly at dealing with potential problems with
the application of lithium-ion batteries in the
redesigned Prius a new technology that packs
more electricity in the same space and weight
than the nickel-metal hydride batteries used in
nearly all hybrid vehicles sold today.
Toyota had hoped the new battery technology would
allow its engineers to halve the size of the
current hybrid propulsion system using
nickel-metal hydride batteries, thereby making
the hybrid substantially cheaper and more
fuel-efficient. The kind of lithium-ion battery
technology that was under consideration for use
in the Prius one based on lithium cobalt oxide
-- has shown a tendency to overheat and catch on
fire -- a problem that has bedeviled computer
makers using lithium-ion batteries made by
Japan's Sony Corp. The delay also comes in
response to the recent rise in product recalls
and other quality gaffes in new Toyota vehicles,
the individuals who spoke on condition of anonymity said.
They said the decision was made ultimately by
Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe who in the
recent past has voiced concern about Toyota's
vehicle quality what he has repeated called the
auto maker's "lifeline." In the U.S., the number
of recalls hit 2.38 million vehicles in 2005,
before settling down to 601,894 vehicles last
year, according to Toyota. The company plans to
use a more advanced version of nickel-metal
hydride batteries for the initial launch of the
next-generation Prius, people familiar with the company's plans said.
Nickel-metal hydride batteries are a less
sophisticated kind of technology than lithium-ion
batteries but have been used in the Prius since
1997 and proven in real life driving for nearly a
decade. Still, that doesn't mean the company has
given up lithium-ion battery technology
altogether. Toyota already has been testing a
Prius equipped with a still-experimental
lithium-ion battery pack on the company's proving
ground in Toyota City. The car was being
test-driven as recently as last week. The
individuals said Toyota plans to launch the new
battery technology as soon as it believes it is
robust enough for mass production and real-life
driving. That means, they said, the Japanese auto
maker will likely equip a later derivative of the
next-generation Prius with lithium-ion batteries.
It wasn't clear when that Prius derivative,
believed to be a station wagon, is coming out. A
spokesman at Toyota's supplier of those
lithium-ion batteries, Panasonic EV Energy Co. Ltd., declined to comment.
Toyota's move to postpone an application of
lithium-ion batteries in hybrids will likely
provide a big break for Toyota's rivals, such as
General Motors Corp. which is trying to come out
with hybrid vehicles using lithium-ion batteries
as early as in 2009. People familiar with GM's
product plans said GM had all but given up its
hopes to beat Toyota to market with a
gasoline-electric hybrid with a lithium-ion
battery pack. GM, those people said, has been
aiming at launching a Saturn Vue Green Line
plug-in hybrid by the autumn of 2009. "This is a
big break" for GM, one of those people said.
A Toyota spokesman in Tokyo said: "We always try
to launch a product in a most timely fashion as possible."
The move is part of Toyota President Mr.
Watanabe's effort to slow down the pace of
product development in order to shore up vehicle
quality and reliability following a string of
recalls and other quality gaffes in recent years.
Last year, Mr. Watanabe told The Wall Street
Journal that after a two-month review of its
product-development processes, the company
concluded engineers in some cases might have
rushed out products without conducting enough
quality checks, such as building prototypes. He
said he intended to boost the number of those
quality checks and would hire more engineers to do so.
Toyota scales back hybrid plans
By JAMES R. HEALEY
USA Today, June 11, 2007
After taking a decade to sell its first 1 million
gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles worldwide,
Toyota Motor now says it plans to sell 1 million a year within a few years.
At the same time, the big automaker appears to be
backing away from a pledge made a few years ago
that hybrid powertrains would be available as
options on nearly every U.S. vehicle by 2010.
"The right car, at the right place, at the right
time, in accordance with energy trends," said
Mira Sleilati, spokeswoman at Toyota Motor North
America, the automaker's holding company. Her
comment was via e-mail, in response to questions
about Toyota's alternative-power vehicles.
"Hybrid technology is our core technology, and we
will double our hybrid lineup. At the same time,
we are accelerating the pace of our efforts to
achieve annual sales of 1 million units in the
early part of the 2010s," she said in the e-mail.
That would be less ambitious than promised in
October 2003 at the Tarrytown, N.Y., briefing on the redesigned Prius hybrid.
Doubling the U.S. hybrid line would result in 12
hybrids, just one-third the 35 total models sold
by Toyota's namesake brand, its Lexus luxury
brand and its Scion youth brand - and not until
after the 2010 date promised at the 2003 briefing.
How does that amount to "accelerating the pace"
of hybrid launches? Sleilati wouldn't explain:
"We, on behalf of TMC (Toyota Motor Corp., the
Japanese parent company) are unable to provide
any additional comment beyond this, particularly
in regards to product planning or timing."
Regardless, Toyota would be the most ambitious
hybrid marketer at a time that $3 gasoline has
made fuel-saving hybrids popular in America.
Sales of gasoline-electric hybrids should boom
226 percent to 854,000 in 2011 from 262,000 last
year, according to a forecast by J.D. Power and
Associates. "If gas prices stay high, the sky's
the limit," says J.D. Power spokesman John Tews.
The United States, in fact, is the biggest hybrid
market. It accounted for 163,000 of Toyota's
313,000 total hybrid sales last year, or 52
percent. And the United States accounted for
about 57 percent of the first 1 million worldwide
sales, which Toyota announced last week.
The automaker introduced its Prius
gasoline-electric hybrid in Japan in 1997 and in
the USA in 2000. It now also sells hybrid
versions of the Camry sedan and Highlander SUV
and of the Lexus LS and GS sedans and RX SUV.
Honda, Ford Motor, General Motors and Nissan also
offer hybrids, though sales lag behind Toyota substantially.
Fuel economy is the main selling point. Toyota's
Camry hybrid is rated 34 miles per gallon in
combined city-highway driving under 2008 federal
rules versus 25 mpg for the highest-rated gasoline Camry.
Toyota also says it is mulling diesel-power
passenger vehicles and expects to announce those
plans, if any, next month. Rival Honda plans U.S. diesel cars in 2009.
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Felix Kramer fkramer@...
Founder California Cars Initiative
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