August 9, 2007: Source – The Wall Street Journal

toyota tundra

Battery woes will slow the launch of a planned super-efficient Toyota Prius, also delaying the automaker’s hybrid options for full-size trucks and SUVs like Tundra and Sequoia. For a lithium-ion Prius, Toyota is now looking at 2010 or 2011. The flagship hybrid’s redesign will still debut in 2009, but with updated nickel-metal hydride batteries.

Why the delay? Visions of fiery laptops might have something to do with it. The lithium cobalt oxide batteries Toyota is developing have chemistry similar to those Sony used in its recalled computer batteries. Toyota wants to be certain that its battery technology is safe before installing it in hundreds of thousands of vehicles.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, GM may benefit from Toyota’s difficulties:

GM is counting on a different kind of lithium-ion technology. A123 Systems, a Watertown, Mass., start-up that has come up with a lithium-ion battery based on iron phosphates, which it says is more chemically stable than others, is one of a handful of likely candidates to supply lithium-ion batteries to GM.

A senior Toyota executive said the timing for the launch of Toyota’s first lithium-ion-battery hybrid model is close to being finalized, though the company’s medium-term hybrid plan is “still very, very fluid in some aspects.” The executive said the lithium-ion Prius will most likely hit the market in early 2011 but that there is a force within Toyota’s engineering and product-development division that is insisting on launching the model by the end of 2010. In that case, it could be a horse race between Toyota and GM.

GM hopes to leapfrog Toyota with its own plug-in hybrid Volt, which could offer the possibility of different internal-combustion engines paired with lithium-ion batteries. And Honda is stealthily working on super-efficient diesel powertrains as well.

This is one horse race it will be impossible to miss—and one that may prove to be decisive in the future of sustainable transportation.

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