Jul 27, 2006 (From the CalCars-News archive)
The suspense is killing us. How shall we interpret "a little more optimistic?" Coming from a new voice from Toyota, this is the first mention that "we need some breakthroughs" rather than simply facing cost impediments -- though battery lifetime is the intermediary between those two concerns.
http://www.courier-journal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060727/BUSINESS/60727025 Louisville Courier-Journal - Louisville,KY,USA Thursday, July 27, 2006 Toyota has new hope for hybrid batteries By Robert Schoenberger
Toyota has had a change of heart about plug-in hybrids, said Dennis Cuneo, senior vice president of the company's North American operations.
In March, Toyota engineers said the concept of a car that can be recharged at home overnight and only use gasoline occasionally when its batteries run low was interesting. But they said then that high-tech batteries needed to make it work could take as long as 10 years to develop.
On Thursday, however, Cuneo said the automaker is now more hopeful that the batteries could be ready soon. Speaking at the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting at the Galt House, he said Toyota believes it could have a plug-in hybrid on the road much sooner.
"We're a little more optimistic now of breakthroughs that would make (lithium-ion batteries) viable in the near term," Cuneo said. "We're working on this, and a lot of other companies are tackling this problem."
Today's hybrids use batteries made from nickel, but those are too heavy to be practical in a vehicle that would derive most of its power from electricity, Toyota executive engineer Dave Hermance said earlier this year. Lithium-ion batteries are the likely successor, but so far, reliable ones have not been available in the sizes needed.
In March, Hermance said lithium-ion technology could be as many as 10 years away.
Cuneo said much work still needs to be done on the technology, but as gas prices have increased, more people have taken interest in possible fuel-saving technologies.
"We need some breakthroughs, no question about that," Cuneo said. "But if you look at the progress we've made with our regular hybrids, it's clear that we can face these challenges."
Toyota, which builds Camrys at its plant in Georgetown, Ky., will begin production of a hybrid version of the sedan there in October. The Japanese automaker has its North American manufacturing headquarters in Erlanger, Ky.