TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Despite "substantial" improvements in lithium-ion batteries in the last few years, even months, the technology is not yet ready for automotive applications, says a Toyota Motor Corp. engineer.
"It's pretty staggering the benefits and the advantages that have been shown through litho-technology, but they haven't proven that it's ready for the automotive market yet. They are still in that developmental, demonstration phase," said Justin Ward, an engineer at the automaker's advanced technology vehicles unit in Gardena, Calif.
Ward's comments today at the close of Management Briefing Seminars followed a report in Thursday's issue of The Wall Street Journal that Toyota is delaying by one or two years the launches of new hybrid vehicles that use lithium-ion batteries.
Toyota's current lineup of hybrids -- the Toyota Prius, Highlander and Camry and the Lexus RX 400h, LS 600hL and GS 450h -- use nickel-metal-hydride batteries.
Prius sales are dominating the U.S. hybrid market this year. Through July, Toyota sold 110,565 Priuses, up 86.5 percent from sales of 59,270 during the same seven-month period last year, according to the Automotive News Data Center. Altogether, 203,098 hybrids were sold in the United States through July, up 42.4 percent from sales of 142,622 units during the same period last year.
Toyota was preparing to launch a dozen new or redesigned hybrids using new lithium-ion batteries in the United States between 2008 and 2010. But according to the newspaper report, Toyota is slowing down because of concerns about the batteries overheating, catching fire or even exploding.
Wade didn't address the report today. He said announcements like the one from General Motors on Thursday that it will co-develop lithium-ion battery cells with A123Systems Inc. show that the technology is getting close.
GM plans to use the batteries in its E-Flex electric drive system, to debut in the Chevrolet Volt possibly as early as 2010.
"The batteries are getting close, but they're not there yet," Ward said. "We need more time to understand how to get past the next few steps to make sure those are a reasonable choice."
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