Twenty years after Toyota introduced the first Prius in Japan and 17 years after it arrived in the United States, hybrids are practically synonymous with Toyota. Tesla may be the young, hot EV startup, but when you think “hybrid,” you picture a Prius. But as demand for electrified vehicles increases, Toyota needs to be able to use newer, better batteries. To achieve this goal, it recently announced plans to collaborate more closely with Panasonic, the company it’s worked on batteries with for the past two decades.
Bloomberg reports that Panasonic and Toyota are developing prismatic cell batteries, as well as solid-state batteries, a technology that Toyota has previously said it believes will give it an advantage over its competitors. “Electrification is a major part of the once-a-century transformation taking place in the auto industry now,” President Akio Toyoda recently told reporters. “In order to make ever-better cars, we need to collaborate with a specialized battery manufacturer.”
Currently, Panasonic provides lithium-ion batteries for Toyota’s plug-in hybrid vehicles. The two companies also formed a joint venture in 1996 called Primearth EV Energy Co. that produces both lithium-ion and nickel-metal hydride batteries for other Toyota vehicles. The Japanese automaker owns 80.5 percent of Primearth, with Panasonic owning the rest.
Recently, Toyota has come under criticism for investing so heavily in hydrogen fuel cell technology instead of battery-electric vehicles. But as Kiyotaka Ise, Toyota’s head of research and development, explained, the company doesn’t believe it’s behind on EV tech. “We have been working with electric motors, inverters, and batteries for more than 20 years,” he said in October. “We have nothing to worry about. Our EV technology is already developed. The core technology is the same.”
Assuming Toyota and Panasonic don’t experience significant setbacks in their development of solid-state batteries, expect to see a fully electric Toyota on the road “in the early 2020s.”