TOKYO, May 19 (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp is planning to increase production of lithium-ion batteries by six times, as the automaker prepares to eventually use them in its flagship Prius gasoline-electric hybrid cars, the Nikkei business daily reported on Sunday.
Currently, most of Toyota's hybrid vehicles use nickel-metal hydride batteries but the automaker is planning to make more cars with lithium-ion batteries, which can be made smaller and lighter, thus enhancing fuel economy, the Nikkei said without citing sources.
It said Toyota and Panasonic Corp would build a new production line at a cost of about 20 billion yen ($194 million). Their joint venture will increase lithium-ion battery output capacity to 200,000 units a year, the paper said.
"Taking into consideration the demand for lithium-ion batteries, (the joint venture) is considering producing them at its Omori plant," Toyota spokesman Ryo Sakai told Reuters.
He declined to comment on whether the next generation Prius would use a lithium ion-battery.
Toyota said last month it had sold more than 5 million gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles as of the end of March since they first went on sale in 1997.
Its Prius series accounted for about 70 percent of that, making it the most popular hybrid model in the automotive industry.
Globally, Toyota sold 1.2 million hybrid vehicles in 2012, the first time it sold more than 1 million hybrids in a single year.