Li-ion-powered Cars Coming

Subaru, Toyota, and other carmakers are looking to lithium-ion battery technology to power the next stage of hybrid evolution

Published: 25-Jan-2006

Among the slew of new hybrids at the North American International Auto Show last week in Detroit, Subaru's B5-TPH concept car stood out. One reason is that the sporty, 256-horsepower two-seater is pretty stylish by Subaru standards. Just as important, though, is a feature that was all but invisible to the casual observer: The car stores its power in lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries instead of the usual nickel metal hydride, or NiMH, cells found in today's hybrids.

That might not sound like a big deal. But battery experts reckon that lithium-ion cells are the shape of things to come for hybrids. While Subaru's parent, Fuji Heavy Industries, says it has no plans to market the B5-TPH anytime soon, the company will hit the market with a Li-ion hybrid next year.

Subaru is far from alone. Several other Japanese auto makers are close to using Li-ion batteries to power hybrids, while non-Japanese manufacturers have also expressed interest, say execs at Sanyo Electric (SANYY ), a key supplier of batteries. Market-leader Toyota (TM ) has indicated it will step up development of Li-ion-powered hybrids. And Nissan (NSANY ), which produced a limited run of 100 hybrids using Li-ion cells back in 2000, now hopes to ramp up the technology (see BW Online, 1/5/06, "Pursuing New Power for Hybrids").

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