Kamis, 30 Oktober 2008

Toyota confirms - again - plans to build production plug-in hybrid vehicles
by John Matras, Automotive Examiner

Plug-in hybrids and lithium-ion batteries are the Next Big Things and Toyota, it would seem from the recent flurry of electric car news, might be losing its grip on first place in the hybrid/lithium-ion battery race.
Lithium-ion batteries developed in a joint project between Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Continental (who will make the batteries) are used in the 2009 Mercedes-Benz S400 BlueHybrid as well as a BMW 7-Series hybrid concept car, and will be the sole power source for the pure electric Mini E. Of course, General Motors has the much ballyhooed 2010 Chevrolet Volt almost ready for primetime.

So has Toyota been resting on its Prius?

Not hardly, says Irv Miller, veep of Toyota’s American corporate communications. Says Miller, “Let me be clear about this: We believe strongly in the viability of plug-in hybrids in some applications, and in their use of lithium-ion batteries. We believe so strongly, in fact, that we plan to begin production of PHEVs late next year.”

Toyota has a joint venture (60 per cent owned by Toyota) with electronics giant Panasonic, which will begin production-line assembly of lithium-ion batteries developed entirely in-house.

Toyota, along with Advanced Power and Energy Program at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Berkeley (UCB), began a test of plug-in hybrids equipped with nickel-metal-hydride (NmH) batteries to accumulate real-word data in late 2007. However, the NmH batteries, even in an oversized battery pack, gave only about seven miles of pure electric operation, and as such was not intended for general distribution.

While conceding that seven miles would be adequate for most weekend trips, Toyota still almost frustratedly cited the advantage of its current hybrid system as being independent of the extension cord.

So as announced by Katsuaki Watanabe, president of Toyota Motor Corp., at last year’s Detroit Auto Show, Toyota will build and deliver what he called "a significant fleet" of plug in hybrids to fleet users in the latter part of 2009.

Toyota will introduce the third generation of Prius at the Detroit auto show in January, and (purposefully?) leaked photos of it have been circulating the web and have been confirmed by Toyota as being accurate. Presumably at that time we’ll know, too, whether that plug-in hybrid will be in the form of a specially-equipped Prius.

What we won't know is when Toyota will offer a PHEV to the general public. Or will we? Stay tuned.