TOKYO - Amid the race among automakers to introduce a more powerful but possibly risky kind of battery to reduce emissions, Toyota has already been offering a “green” technology based on the lithium-ion battery in Japan.
Lithium-ion batteries are considered critical in developing ecological cars of the future. The batteries are widely used in laptops and other gadgets. But they still aren’t common in cars except in experimental electric vehicles.
Worries about the safety of lithium-ion batteries, which overheated recently in laptops and cell phones, are a major obstacle to introducing them in cars.
But the lithium-ion battery has been part of an “intelligent package” for Toyota Motor Corp.’s Vitz subcompact since 2003 — although the feature is available in extremely small numbers at about 10 vehicles a month.
Toyota now uses a different kind of battery called nickel-metal hydride battery in its popular gas-electric hybrid Prius.
Still, the commercially sold cars with Toyota’s own lithium-ion batteries may be its best kept secret.
It underlines how Toyota is quietly but surely collecting information about the battery’s performance.
Toyota Executive Vice President Masatami Takimoto told The Associated Press recently the company hasn’t marketed the feature aggressively because battery supplies are limited and the company can’t respond to massive demand.
But the feature is available at dealers, and consumers can get them if they ask for it.
“We don’t tell everybody about it,” Takimoto said. “But we already have our own lithium-ion battery.”
The Vitz with the lithium-ion battery delivers better mileage at about 25 kilometers a liter (60 miles a gallon), in Japanese testing, compared with the regular Vitz at about 22 kilometers a liter (53 miles a gallon), according to Toyota.