Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid Concept

Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid Concept

"Electric vehicles of today are less costly than in 1990s, but if you compare them with the other vehicles out there they are still too expensive."

Those were the words of Toyota Executive Vice President, Takeshi Uchiyamada, at the Frankfurt Motor Show which opened to the press today. "Unless there is a very big breakthrough in battery costs I don't think electric vehicles can take a large market share," he elaborated.

This comes shortly after a story published by Bloomberg about those very batteries. According to the report, Toyota has secretly been testing lithium-ion batteries in a fleet of Prius hatchbacks for the past three years. Their study concluded that the li-ion batteries are safe and reliable for automotive applications, and that they provide a small fuel economy benefit over currently used nickel-metal hydride packs.

This week, Toyota also unveiled a plug-in Prius hybrid, which would utilize li-ion technology and reportedly charge in just 90 minutes from a conventional household outlet. The plug-in will be leased for fleet use in early 2010. However, Japan's largest automaker has no plans to switch technologies completely, as they've invested heavily in nickel-metal hydride and they say the additional costs of li-ion batteries often outweigh the benefits.

A low cost, long-range, fast-charging battery is still the holy grail of the electric vehicle movement, and while plug-in hybrids and EVs continue to garner public interest, the developments in battery technology alluded to by Uchiyamada are likely the governing factor in mass market adoption.

Sources: CNET, Autoguide, Bloomberg