The next generation of the Toyota Prius hybrid will arrive next year, and Toyota is reportedly considering a new strategy in regards to the car’s battery pack. According to a report from Automotive News, the Toyota Prius engineering team is currently deciding between continuing to use nickel-metal hydride batteries, which the Prius uses now, or switching to higher-cost, lightweight lithium-ion batteries.
We already found out that Toyota is aiming for a 10 percent fuel economy gain with the next Prius thanks to weight savings of up to 20 percent that come from its new platform, called the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA). Switching to lithium-ion batteries could help this efficiency gain even more, because they are lighter than nickel metal hydride batteries and afford better performance as well. Lithium ion batteries do cost more, though, and general manager for Toyota’s battery research division Hideki Iba told AN that Toyota could possibly offer both within the Prius lineup, with nickel metal hydride batteries as standard and lithium-ion batteries as an optional upgrade. In Japan, Toyota currently offers a three-row version of the Toyota Prius V that uses lithium-ion battery packs.
The multi-tiered battery strategy would help Toyota keep the base price of a new Prius low; Senior managing officer Soichiro Okudaira told AN the new hybrid will be, "less expensive."
We already heard that the next Toyota Prius might offer all-wheel-drive through an e-4WD system using an electric motor in the rear wheels. This system could power the rear wheels at speeds up to 37 mph, at which point the Prius would revert to being a front-wheel-drive car. Based on our spy shots of the next Toyota Prius, we expect a more upscale exterior design, albeit with a similar shape as before due to aerodynamic concerns. The interior will receive a significant change as well, with a conventional gauge cluster replacing the center-mounted LCD display in the current Prius.
Look for the fourth-generation Toyota Prius to debut sometime in 2015, most likely as a 2016 model. Despite some rumors to the contrary, AN reports the next Toyota Prius will not be built in the U.S., and instead will continue to be exported from Japan.