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Toyota to boost next-gen Prius numbers

Our friends across the pond at AutoExpress magazine are reporting lofty goals for Toyota Prius: The Next Generation. One of these details is scary.

Engineers at Toyota say that their next hybrid wonder child car can get up to 113 miles per gallon. Sounds like one of those figures that’s too good to be true, but there it is. They are also saying that the acceleration has been improved, with the 0-60 mph time cutting under 10 seconds. The folks at Toyota are even saying that the Prius might get the holy grail of hybrids, plug-in capability.

That all sounds fantastic, and we hope that they keep the price down so that enough can appreciate it to encourage Prius 3.0.

What we’re most concerned about, however, is the report that the Prius will be switching battery technology from nickel metal hydride to (gasp) lithium-ion. We’ve heard how automotive lithium ion technology is much safer than that used in notebooks, and the chances of that kind of fire under the hood of a hybrid are tiny. We guess that Toyota, normally a champion of safety, wouldn’t do such a thing without rigorously performing tests to alleviate our concerns.

Toyota says that switching to lithium-ion will mean that the batteries are more compact, so they can pack more cabin space into the existing car frame. Whatever the fire risk ultimately happens to be, these cars won’t be hitting showrooms until 2009, so there’s plenty of time for things like safety testing and risk assessment.

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