TOKYO -- Toyota Motor Corp. says that lithium ion batteries are still too hazardous to put in hybrid cars and that it won't hurry development just to beat rival General Motors.
"In the past, a lot of companies have failed with electric vehicles," said Kazuo Okamoto, Toyota's executive vice president for r&d. "We don't want to fail, and that is why we are assiduously researching. We won't rush."
Safety concerns still bar using lithium ion technology in cars, Okamoto said. And in the meantime, Toyota should be able to squeeze better performance from nickel-metal hydride batteries, he said at a Friday, Aug. 31, press event here.
Nickel-metal hydride is the hybrid battery standard. But automakers see lithium ion as the next step because the batteries are smaller and lighter. The problem is lithium ion batteries tend to overheat and even catch fire.
Lithium ion batteries would be particularly useful in plug-in hybrids. Plug-ins can be charged overnight with household electrical current, reducing the need to burn gasoline.
But plug-ins require lithium ion batteries to go through severe charging and discharging cycles, which decrease the life of the battery and cause heat to build.
GM thinks it can resolve the safety problems and plans to use the batteries in a production version of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in concept, possibly as early as 2010.
Toyota's public stance is more guarded: "We haven't decided on a timeline yet," Okamoto said. "But lithium ion batteries have a lot of problems now. Until we can make a truly safe and cost-effective battery, we are not going to put it in a car."
Okamoto spoke shortly after Toyota told of plans to sell 9.8 million vehicles worldwide in 2008. If so, that would pass GM's best year, 1978, when it sold 9.5 million vehicles worldwide.
Toyota expects its sales will jump again to 10.4 million in 2009, making it the first automaker to pass 10 million.
In the United States and Canada, Toyota expects to break the 3 million-vehicle barrier by 2009 with sales of 3.1 million.
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