Toyota plans electric car, speeds plug-in Prius push

Toyota Motor Corp., working to keep a lead in advanced autos over General Motors Corp., is developing an electric-powered small car and will speed up testing of plug-in Prius hybrids with new battery technology.

The all-electric car will be “mass-produced” in the early 2010s, President Katsuaki Watanabe said Thursday in Tokyo without elaborating. Tests of rechargeable Priuses, previously set for 2010, were moved up to late 2009, the automaker said.

The shift by Toyota, the world's largest seller of hybrid autos, reflects rising demand for fuel-efficient cars amid record oil prices. The new time table for the plug-in Prius, with an estimated 10-mile battery range, mirrors GM's planned schedule for employee tests of its rechargeable Volt.

“We'll be studying the range, but think we'll need more than that for a consumer version,” Toyota spokesman John Hanson said Thursday in an interview from Tokyo. “Non-consumer fleets” such as utilities will use the vehicles, he said.

Toyota said it will use lithium-ion batteries in the plug- in Prius, an advance over the nickel-metal hydride batteries that provide electricity for existing hybrids.

Plug-in Priuses with extra nickel-metal batteries are being tested in California and Japan, with a range of about seven miles on battery power alone. GM is aiming for as much as 40 miles of all-electric range with its Volt. Toyota and GM are targeting late 2010 for the first commercial plug-in sales.