While rivals in the automobile industry such as Tesla Motors and Nissan Motor have started utilizing lithium-ion battery technology almost a decade ago to release all-electric car models, Toyota Motor has been holding back on doing so because of several concerns.
Lithium-ion batteries have recently been in the limelight due to the controversy of Samsung's Galaxy Note 7. The explosions that have caused certain units of the smartphone to catch fire are caused by still undiscovered issues in the device's battery, and this instability is one of the reasons why Toyota has not yet gone all-in on the technology.
That is, until now. Toyota engineers claim to have "tamed" lithium-ion battery technology, which will now allow the company to include more power into electric-powered vehicles at no significant additional cost.
The breakthrough is said to address Toyota's concerns on the technology of safety, cost and size, and it will allow the company to finally launch its own all-electric vehicle.
Many lithium-ion batteries for cars also utilize nickel, manganese and cobalt, leading to higher energy storage, faster recharge times and an overall safer technology. However, these batteries are still prone to overheating and catching fire on improper design, manufacturing or usage.
Prius chief engineer Koji Toyoshima said it is a huge challenge to develop a lithium-ion battery for cars with reliability and safety which can be depended on for hundreds of thousands of kilometers or 10 years. To ensure the safety of its customers, Toyota has double braced and even triple braced the battery pack it will be using in the future on its vehicles.
The company's new confidence in lithium-ion battery technology comes from its development of an improved control technology that will allow a car's system to precisely monitor the condition and temperature of the 95 cells that will be included in the batter pack. Panasonic, Toyota's lithium-ion battery supplier and also that of Tesla's, also worked with Toyota to improve the assembly of battery cells to make sure that impurities won't be included, as even the smallest metallic particles can lead to an explosion.
Toyota has also been able to shrink the size of the battery cells. The company has doubled their capacity to about 8.8 kilowatt hours while only increasing the size by about two-thirds and the weight by half.
Toyota has previously banked on hydrogen fuel cells as an alternative power source for vehicles, having launched the 2016 Toyota Mirai in California late last year. For the Prius, which is the best-selling gasoline hybrid in the world, the company uses nickel-metal hydride batteries.
With the company now supporting lithium-ion battery technology, it will start utilizing it in the Prius Prime.
The Prius Prime is an upcoming plug-in electric version of the Prius. The difference is that the Prime will use lithium-ion battery technology, with the vehicle able to go for 60 kilometers or 37.3 miles on a full charge before it begins using its gasoline engine. However, because of the different method in measuring a vehicle's electric mode range, the Prime's range will only be 25 miles, or about 40.2 kilometers, in the United States.