Source AP ©

Work on Prius progresses on schedule

Work at Toyota Motor Corp. on the next-generation gas-electric hybrid Prius, as well as on a breakthrough battery, goes at full speed.

Executive Vice President Masatami Takimoto denied there were any delays on the upgrade of the Prius. He also said work was going well at Toyota Motor Corp. to develop the lithium-ion battery, which can pack more power than the nickel-metal hydride battery now used in the Prius.

Takimoto said he was baffled by the media reports about a delay in the next Prius. Such reports have surfaced recently in the local media but also in The Wall Street Journal, which blamed an alleged delay on problems with the lithium-ion battery.

"I never said there was any delay," Takimoto told The Associated Press at a reception for the Tokyo Motor Show, opening this week.

"Work on the next-generation Prius and work on the next-generation lithium-ion battery are both moving forward according to our plan," Takimoto said, while declining to give a date or other details on either product.

The Prius was introduced in 1997, and remodeled after about six years. Toyota has not said when it will be remodeled next. But expectations are high a revamping is due in the next few years.

Takimoto said the next-generation Prius won't need a lithium-ion battery because the nickel-metal hydride battery it has now is well-suited for the car. Instead, the next Prius can offer better mileage by improving its motor and other parts, he said.

Takimoto also said a move to the lithium-ion battery would be more attractive for a product other than the Prius, such as a plug-in hybrid, which recharges from a household socket, or an electric car.

The advantages of the lithium-ion battery, such as how it's rechargeable and packs more power in a smaller size, will be "more fun" in a plug-in or an electric car, he said.

The electric car is seen as a vehicle of the distant future, but Toyota is already testing plug-in hybrids on public roads in the U.S. and Japan.

Toyota has sold more than a million gas-electric hybrids around the world, mostly the Prius, the first mass-produced gas-electric hybrid to go on the commercial market. Toyota is targeting selling a million hybrids a year in the early 2010s.

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