According to the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri, Toyota is preparing a larger version of their popular Prius hybrid for production by the end of 2010. The new vehicle will fall into the SUV or station wagon class and will utilize lithium-ion batteries as opposed to the nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) packs found in the current Prius and most other mainstream hybrids.

News that Toyota plans to expand the Prius lineup is no surprise. The benchmark hybrid has been wildly successful, and rumors of a Prius coupe, expected to take on the upcoming Honda CR-Z, have persisted for months.

The switch to lithium-ion batteries is a departure for the Japanese automaker, however. While other car companies (most notably, Tesla Motors) have employed lithium-ion batteries successfully, Toyota publicly stated that they planned to stick with NiMH just two months ago, after conducting tests on some Prius mules with the lithium-ion technology. Toyota hasn't confirmed the latest story, but they do have agreements with Panasonic and Sanyo to develop lithium-ions for cars, so the switch could be feasible. At this point, it's anyone's guess as to what the company's true plans are.

Nevertheless, if the story holds true and a bigger Prius has been on your wish list, it's expected to take $22,000 to get one. (Who knows how long you might have to wait for it?)

Source: Yomiuri via the AP