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Old 03-05-2011, 10:32 AM   #1
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Default Toyota to equip Prius minivan hybrid for Japan with lithium-ion battery

The Prius minivan hybrid due later this year will be the first standard hybrid from Toyota Motor Corp. equipped with a lithium-ion battery. But the advanced, lightweight power pack will appear only in the Japanese version of the car, a person familiar with the plan said Friday. The U.S. version will stick with the heavier nickel-metal hydride batteries used in the current Prius hatchback and Toyota's other gasoline-electric vehicles.

Toyota is using lithium in the Japan-spec Prius minivan to open up more interior room and allow for three rows of seats, as preferred by Japanese customers, the source said. The Prius V minivan shown at this year's Detroit auto show had only two rows of seats, while the Prius + variant shown this week in Geneva has three rows.

Using a bulkier nickel-metal battery requires the battery to consume space in a console between the driver's and passenger's seat.
"We are doing it only for cabin configuration considerations," the source said.

Toyota spokesman Paul Nolasco said the company couldn't comment on future product plans.
Japan's Nikkei business daily reported separately that the minivan version of the Prius would go on sale in Japan next month and start at 3 million yen ($36,590), when equipped with a lithium ion battery. A lower-grade version with a nickel-metal hydride battery will also be offered, starting at 2.35 million yen ($28,660).

Toyota has long said it will reserve lithium batteries for plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles, while it continues to use nickel-metal batteries in traditional hybrids. But an executive told Automotive News last month that the first standard hybrid with a lithium power pack would arrive soon.
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