Toyota's next generation Prius likely won't have the
spectacular boost in fuel economy that was once expected. In late May, the
Japanese newspaper Nikkan Koyogo
reported that Toyota was considering nixing the idea of putting lithium-ion batteries in
the next generation Prius. The newspaper stated that there were concerns
within the company about the safety of lithium-ion batteries -- something that
Sony is already well aware of.
The Wall Street
Journal confirmed today that the next-generation Prius will
not use lithium-ion battery technology -- at least for the first few years.
The lithium-ion batteries that were to be used in the Prius would have been
provided by Panasonic EV Energy Company.
The Prius will instead continue to use nickel-metal hydride
batteries -- albeit in a higher capacity form to boost mileage over the current
Toyota's decision to not use lithium-ion battery technology
could be a big break for General Motors. GM has long been in Toyota's shadow
when it comes to hybrid technology, but the company is looking to reverse its
fortunes in the coming years.
The company has launched its new "mild hybrid" Saturn Aura Green Line
sedan and is nearing the release of dual-mode hybrid Chevrolet
Tahoe and GMC Yukon full-size SUVs. GM's coup de grâce, however, could be
the upcoming Saturn Vue
Green Line mid-sized crossover.
In 2009, the Saturn Vue Green Line will be equipped with a
2-mode hybrid powertrain and plug-in capabilities. Owners will be able to
charge their vehicle overnight via a standard 110-volt outlet and drive 10
miles on fully charged lithium-ion batteries before the internal combustion
engine takes over. In addition, GM says that its plug-in hybrid Vue Green Line
is good for 70MPG.
All hope is not lost for the Prius in the quest for
increased fuel economy. Current and future Prius owners can always look to
third-parties to retrofit their vehicles with lithium-ion batteries. Lithium
Technology Corporation has produced a lithium-ion battery pack (comprised of 63 LTC LiFePO4 cells)
for the current Prius. When coupled with a plug-in system, fuel economy jumps
from 46MPG combined to 125MPG.