BMW and Toyota team to develop new hybrid batteries

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Two generations of lithium-ion batteries

Two generations of lithium-ion batteries. Image: Argonne National Laboratory/Flickr/ CC BY-SA

German automaker BMW AG announced Tuesday that it will be collaborating with Japanese car maker Toyota to develop a new generation of lithium-ion batteries. The batteries will power future models of the Prius and other hybrids.

Collaboration finally in effect

BMW and Toyota have been in talks about the collaboration for more than a year now. The automakers signed a formal memorandum of understanding on Dec. 1, 2011, agreeing to work on a contract. That agreement has been ironed out and went into effect Tuesday.

Toyota new to lithium-ion

Toyota, though considered the leader in hybrid production worldwide, has not used lithium-ion batteries except in the most recent Prius Plug-in model. All other versions of the Prius have used nickel-metal-hydride batteries.

Old batteries better than expected

Toyota began making hybrids with nickel-metal-hydride batteries because the lithium-ion technology had not yet been sufficiently developed. It was believed at the time that the nickel-metal-hydride batteries would fail and require replacement before 100,000 miles. However, they have proven more reliable than anticipated. In fact, other makers using lithium-ion power have had expensive setbacks that Toyota avoided. Consumer Reports recently reported a charging system failure in some Fisker Karma models it tested. The Chevrolet Volt has likewise experienced well-publicized issues with its battery pack.

Apparently, though, Toyota has faith that a next-generation lithium-ion will prove a more successful power plant than the nickel-metal-hydride version.

BMW needs Toyota’s hybrid know-how

BMW has produced some hybrid models in recent years, but none have shown significant improvements in fuel economy. According to Torque News, it is questionable whether the automaker’s 5 Series Hybrid gets better mileage than its gas-consuming cousin. The BMW 7 Series Hybrid boasts a twin turbo v8 engine that gets an unimpressive 17 mpg in town. The collaboration will clearly help BMW meet the upcoming fuel-efficiency standards in the U.S. market.

Toyota benefits from BMW diesel

Conversely, Toyota will benefit from a collaboration with BMW because the agreement also entails sharing diesel technology. BMW has agreed to provide Toyota with fuel-efficient 1.6 and 2.0 liter four-cylinder diesel engines. Toyota has made no announcement that it will be offering a diesel model in the U.S., but diesel vehicles are integral to the market in many European nations. The Japanese automakers said it will begin producing diesel vehicles for European markets in 2014.

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Other collaborations

Toyota has previously collaborated with Tesla in the development of the RAV4 EV. BMW also started a partnership with PSA Peugot-Citroën to develop hybrid and EV technology. It is unknown whether those agreements will be affected by this new collaboration.


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