By now most of us are well aware of the benefits that lithium-ion batteries are purported to bring to hybrids: lighter weight, longer range and better power. We've also heard the downsides of lithium-ion batteries: unexpected fires and explosions, heat, and high costs. Toyota, already slow to join the lithium-ion camp, has decided that the smart money is on what's next - although it will still use lithium-ion batteries in some vehicles.

Alternative materials like air-zinc are being eyed, and Toyota is devoting new resources to a unit that will investigate the issue. The company has a goal of 50mi (80km) on a battery that can be charged from a standard home electricity outlet, reports Automotive News Europe. With hopes to commercialize such a battery by 2020, the company has its work cut out - but it's not impossible. The 2020 goal falls in step with the broader goal of having a hybrid version of every model in its lineup.

Toyota's move toward the technology of the generation-after-next comes just as other makers are beginning to firm up their implementations of next-generation lithium-ion technology. Toyota itself hopes to have a new plug-in hybrid on the market as soon as 2010, a year after Mercedes expects to come to market with its S400 BlueEFFICIENCY hybrid. BMW is using lithium-ion batteries in its most recent hybrids, and Ford just delivered its first lithium-ion plug-in hybrid SUV test vehicle in January.