• 2015 Toyota Prius to use lithium-ion batteries
  • Compared to NiMH batteries, lithium-ion saves weight and lasts longer
  • We expect to see the next-generation Prius this year

Expect the Toyota Prius to use lithium-ion batteries when it's redesigned for the 2015 model year. That's the latest from Hideki Iba, general manager of Toyota's battery division, though he cautions that the new battery technology may not make it to entry-level Prius models due to cost.

The switch to lithium-ion batteries would be a big one for Toyota, as the Prius has used nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries since it debuted as a compact sedan for the 1999 model year. While many competitors already offer the newer lithium-ion technology, Toyota has stuck it out with NiMH -- primarily due to production costs.

But lithium-ion batteries offer several benefits that NiMH units can't match. Chief among them is weight savings: Lithium-ion batteries can store more energy in a smaller area than NiMH batteries. That means automakers who use lithium-ion technology can save weight and boost gas mileage.

The other benefit of lithium-ion batteries is that they don't have a "memory effect" -- a problem commonly associated with NiMH batteries. The memory effect occurs when batteries are recharged before they're fully depleted, which gradually leads to a capacity loss. Because NiMH batteries suffer from this problem, they don't last as long as lithium-ion batteries -- and that can mean costly battery replacement for drivers. It can also lead to excessive battery disposal, which will harm the environment.

Beyond battery technology, Toyota is also said to be focusing on weight savings for the 2015 Prius. The brand says new architecture should cut weight by a whopping 20 percent, which will likely lead to big fuel economy gains.

While Toyota has not yet announced any other details about the 2015 Prius, we're excited to see it hit the streets -- especially considering it's the runaway sales leader among hybrids. We expect Toyota to reveal the next-generation Prius sometime this year, with sales starting soon after.

What it means to you: The 2015 Toyota Prius will finally implement lithium-ion battery technology, along with other measures to increase fuel economy.

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Doug DeMuro has a wide range of automotive industry experience, from work at a Ferrari dealership to a manager for Porsche North America. A lifelong car enthusiast, Doug's eclectic vehicle purchases include a Porsche 911 Turbo, an E63 AMG wagon, an old Range Rover and a Mercedes Benz G-wagen.

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