GM and A123Systems to Co-Develop Lithium-Ion Battery Cell for Chevrolet Volt
Increasing Grain Prices Making Operating Costs of First- and Second-Generation Biofuels Similar; Capital Costs Remain an Impediment

Report: Battery Issues Force Delay in Toyota’s Plans for Hybrids

The Wall Street Journal reports that Toyota has decided to delay by one to two years the launches of new high-mileage hybrids with lithium-ion battery technology because of potential safety problems.

Toyota has been working with li-ion batteries from Panasonic EV Energy, which provides NiMH batteries for Toyota’s current range of hybrids. Panasonic EV has been working with a cobalt oxide (LiNiCoAlO2) cathode material for its next generation cells—material that is the most proven, but that also is the most thermally unstable at a high state of charge.

(As a comparison, A123Systems, with whom GM is co-developing li-ion cells for the Chevy Volt (earlier post), uses a doped iron phosphate cathode. Iron phosphate chemistry is the most thermally stable, and should be the most stable at high SOC.)

Until recently, Toyota was preparing to roll out a dozen new and redesigned hybrids using new lithium-ion battery technology in the U.S. between 2008 and 2010. Its hybrids now use nickel-metal-hydride batteries. But safety concerns with the lithium-ion technology have forced Toyota to back away from that timetable, people familiar with the company’s strategy say.

The rollout—critical to Toyota’s goal of selling 600,000 hybrids a year in the U.S. by early next decade, up from nearly 200,000 last year—is on hold, according to Toyota executives knowledgeable about the company’s hybrid-product plans for the U.S. market.

...Toyota also postponed plans for hybrid versions of its big and fuel- thirsty Tundra pickup and its Sequoia sport-utility vehicle, though the executives added there is a chance Toyota would revive big-truck hybrids and come out with them by 2013 or 2014.

...The first Toyota hybrid that uses lithium-ion battery technology won’t arrive in the U.S. until early 2011 when a derivative of the Prius, a wagon, comes out, company executives say—a delay of at least a year from the original plan.

...Aside from the planned lithium-ion Prius wagon, Toyota now plans to launch as many as nine other lithium-ion-battery hybrids in the 2011- 2012 period. Among them are a new wagon-style crossover with three rows of seating and a wagon derivative of the Camry.


This is not good news for extended electric range Toyota Prius PHEVs.

Toyota may have to change technology for their lithium battery packs. Development of a new (more stable) cathode material will take time. Using A123 technology may save time but Toyota may prefer to develop its own lithium battery packs. Time will tell.

This could be an opportunity for GM to beat Toyota with the first mass produced PHEVs.

Rumors has it that Toyota may market a limited (electric) range Prius PHEV with a larger MiNH battery pack in 2009/2010, i.e. an incremental step with existing proven battery technology to stay ahead of GM.

Mike L

Are the winds of change blowing, from the East to Detroit? Lets see if GM can take advantage of this window...

Stephen Boulet

I'm a little disappointed that Toyota is devoting their resources to what may be yesterday's Li-ion technology. Hopefully the price of Prius conversions to Li-ion phosphate plug-ins will come down soon.


Tom M

Toyota is worried about tarnishing its track record of producing high quality cars - cars without problems. They didn't want a quality stumble.

By not agressively solving these problems and delaying technology use, this is a production stumble that will give GM a chance to overtake Toyota.

Now GM needs to make sure it doesn't stumble as it has in the past.


Disappointing but expected.

The next move by car companies will be diesel ICEs so they and the oil companies can recover their R&D investments. From an oil saving viewpoint, burning diesel makes sense to do. At the refineries, for a give amount of oil there is a proportional amount of gasoline and a proportional amount of diesel produced as output products. If you burn only the gasoline, you end up with surplus diesel; that's why, in its untreated state it was so cheap. So, if you can burn diesel as cleanly as gasoline, it's like an increase in the fuel supply. The down side is you are still burning it in inefficient ICEs.

Robert Schwartz


Still, even with tough safety rules, the [battery powered electric] cars can pose special hazards. When installing an array of batteries in a car, Mr. Wayland lays a rubber blanket on top of it, and connects one battery to the next, one at a time, to avoid short-circuits.

But in March 1998, feeling elated after installing 28 batteries in preparation for a race, he whipped off the blanket before he was finished. He leaned down to connect the last battery to the array and dropped the brass connecting rod, which bounced from battery to battery, creating a trail of sparks and flashes. A superheated cloud of gas, called a plasma, formed and flickered over the batteries as the heat generated by 336 volts melted the brass and fused the batteries together.

“I could feel the skin burning on my face,” recalls Mr. Wayland, who wasn’t seriously injured. A colleague threw a wet towel over the blaze. The towel was vaporized. Fire extinguishers had no effect. Finally, a fireman wearing a hazardous-materials suit disconnected the batteries, and the cloud disappeared. “The Zombie looked like a roasted marshmallow,” Mr. Wayland says. The car was quickly repaired, and Mr. Wayland has since been known as “Plasma Boy.”


An interesting story. And, there is no question that working around high voltage DC is a dangerous undertaking. I like the approach that Tesla has with sealing the entire system and including fail-safe monitoring, effectively isolating the battery system from access by the Public. I would also hope they include safety keyed connection points, i.e., a female enclosed connection at all hot points with fault detection disconnect. The correct approach would be to limit access to only maintenance personnel and then to only allow the local mech to remove and replace the whole unit for later factory repair.


Hey Toyota......Call Valence Technology....DUH


Toyota can't call Valence, or A123, or Altair.

They have a typical Japanese agreement to work with Panasonic EV. OK, PEVE have let them down, but Toyota wouldn't dream of breaking their agreement, or of losing face by begging the opposition to use their technology.

Incidentally, GM have already solicited bids with non-compete agreements from most of the best potential lithium-ion manufacturers, in a savvy attempt to keep Toyota from getting hold of the decent modern chemistries. Toyota are stuck with PEVE.


RE: clett's comment - can GM really be that smart? I thought there was a quote from one of their execs that they didn't even know who A123 was.

I really don't believe that GM would allow this success to happen to itself, since it is so determined to drag the world back to 1955. From comments here it sounds like their Volt isn't even as advanced as the EV1 was, with bonehead design choices.

Roger Pham

Now, this should result in some exciting competion: Advance GM's A123 battery tech vs. Toyota's HSD. Let the game begin! (If Big Oil will stay out of it!)



Big Oil is taking its last big profits before the petro tumble squelches their run. Of course they could get on the next right train and start building out the E85/biodiesel distribution networks - but they don't seem enthusiastic.

If the VOLT delivers on its 200+ mpg promise they will have effectively evolved to a new automotive high. But we'd like to see EE-Stor stay on the front burner just to keep the battery guys honest.


Some of you are saying Toyota is "stuck with PEVE" like it's a bad thing or something. PEVE is one of the world's top battery makers and it would be foolish to underestimate or dismiss them. Also, with Toyota's close ties to Fuji Heavy Industries, they have yet another avenue for advanced battery tech, as FHI also has experience in making advanced rechargeable batteries.

GM may beat Toyota to market with a li-ion hybrid ... OR GM may stumble and release a li-ion hybrid too soon to the market with potential reliability problems occuring down the road.

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