Toyota adds Sai to hybrid lineup

by Hiroko Nakata

Toyota Motor Corp. unveiled its new Sai compact hybrid sedan Tuesday, hoping to expand the range of its fuel-efficient lineup.

The gasoline-electric Sai, which goes on sale Dec. 7, is Toyota’s third exclusive hybrid model after the Prius and Lexus HS250h launched in July.

Using the same hybrid system as that of the Prius, the Sai, ranging in price from ¥3.38 million to ¥4.26 million, has a 2.4-liter gasoline engine, compared with the ¥2.05 million Prius’ 1.8-liter engine.

“We aimed to create a small but multivalue new compact high-quality car,” Shigeru Nakagawa, in charge of the Sai project, told a news conference.

The Sai achieves fuel efficiency of 23 km per liter. Toyota also uses what it claims is “ecological plastic,” which is made from plant-derived materials for about 60 percent of the interior surface area.

Toyota aims to sell 3,000 Sai hybrids a month on the domestic market. The automaker is not currently planning to sell the car overseas, Nakagawa said.

The Sai will be exhibited at the Tokyo Motor Show, which opens to the public Saturday.

Nissan-Sumitomo JV

Kyodo News

Nissan Motor Co. and trading house Sumitomo Corp. said Tuesday they will set up a joint venture in 2010 for recycling lithium ion batteries installed in electric vehicles in an effort to bring down the high costs of zero-emission vehicles.

The business “will contribute to the promotion of EVs and stemming their initial costs,” Nissan Chief Operating Officer Toshiyuki Shiga said.

Sumitomo Executive Vice President Kazuo Omori said the trading house has no plans to expand the joint venture into a capital tieup with Nissan and added the new company will only handle Nissan’s lithium ion batteries.

Nissan plans to release the Leaf, a fully electric medium-size family sedan in Japan, the United States and Europe in late 2010 and mass produce it globally from 2012.

The joint venture is expected to begin operations in Japan and the United States around the same time as the Leaf’s launch, but no details were provided, such as the size and capital ratio of the new firm.

Nissan said it will study a similar framework to reuse the batteries in Europe with its alliance partner, Renault SA of France.

The lithium ion batteries that will power the Leaf are produced at a separate joint venture set up by Nissan, NEC Corp. and its subsidiary, NEC Tokin Corp.

The tieup with Sumitomo will allow Nissan to reuse the batteries and resell them after repackaging them for other applications, including storage of renewable energy. Raw materials will also be recycled after the reused batteries expire.

According to the two companies, lithium ion batteries, which are more compact, lightweight and powerful than existing batteries, are likely to maintain 70 percent to 80 percent of their residual capacity after the end of a normal vehicle cycle.