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Toyota designs electric car with batteries reusable in homes

Automaker looks to sell used power packs to Panasonic and utilities

Toyota envisions a broader market for used batteries from its new ultracompact electric car. (Photo by Kento Awashima) 

NAGOYA, Japan -- Toyota Motor is preparing to release a new ultracompact electric vehicle with a standardized battery that can be easily reused in homes.

By the end of this year, the automaker aims to introduce the model designed for one or two people. The cars would be leased for several years, with scheduled battery checks over that time frame.

Once a battery has deteriorated to a certain point, the company would replace it. But as even degraded batteries still hold a charge, they can be reused as storage batteries.

Toyota hopes to sell the batteries to Panasonic, a major supplier of home storage batteries, or utilities like Chubu Electric Power. The idea is to have these customers adopt the same standard, creating an easy and cost-effective recycling system.

The batteries are expected to have 8 kilowatt-hours of capacity -- enough to power lighting and mobile phone charges for a four-member family for nearly three days. If a household has solar panels, it would be able to rely on the battery even longer.

Installing the batteries would allow consumers to store cheaper power overnight and ensure they have a supply in the event of an emergency.

Toyota is considering larger battery standards as well. If a battery still holds a sufficient charge, the automaker could also install it in other vehicles, such as those used for short-distance car-sharing.

The electric-car industry is still in its infancy. Global production totaled nearly 1.5 million vehicles in 2018 -- only 1% to 2% of all new vehicles, according to IHS Markit. But some predict output will rise to 8.8 million autos by 2025, as tougher environmental regulations kick in.

Toyota is not alone in seeking to repurpose electric-car batteries.

Japanese trading company Itochu has entered into a capital tie-up with Shenzhen Pandpower, a China-based battery recycling company. Itochu will source batteries from players including Chinese electric vehicle company BYD.

Fellow trader Marubeni is exploring similar opportunities with investments in emerging Chinese companies. And Nissan Motor is placing used batteries from its Leaf electric cars at 7-Eleven convenience stores for power storage. These batteries have also been used for forklifts and streetlights in the past.

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