Toyota to Build New Battery Plant

Joint venture with Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. to build plant in Kosai

Toyota Motor Corp., seeking to stay in pole position in the fuel efficient car race, unveiled plans on May 22 to build a new factory producing batteries for eco-friendly vehicles. The move comes amid growing competition between Japanese automakers to tap demand for economical cars amid soaring prices at the pump.

Toyota's joint venture with its partner Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. plans to spend 20 billion yen (US$192 million) to build a plant in Kosai in central Shizuoka Prefecture, said Toyota spokesman Hideaki Homma.

Toyota has taken a lead in sales of hybrids, selling more than one million of its Prius model -- the world's first mass-produced hybrid -- since its launch about a decade ago. But it is facing renewed competition from other Japanese automakers such as Honda as well as overseas rivals in the green automobile race.

Automakers have for years been competing to develop lithium-ion rechargeable batteries suitable for long distance hybrids, but there have been safety concerns after massive recalls by laptop computer manufacturers. Nissan Motor Co. said this week it and NEC Corp. will invest $115 million to mass produce new batteries for electric, hybrid and fuel-cell vehicles. Honda Motor -- like Toyota a pioneer of hybrid-engine cars -- said this week it plans to introduce what it describes as an affordable hybrid in early 2009.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2008

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