Pop-culture junkies familiar with 1980s touchstone movies will hear the word "capacitor" and think Back to the Future. But the concept of supercapacitors being used in upcoming production models is being pushed by Toyota, not DeLorean. And because of that push, the future might look a little brighter for the Prius.
The supercapacitor technology in the Toyota TS040 "offers great possibility for production car use." – Amanda Rice, Toyota
The Japanese automaker will likely apply electric-motor technology used in Toyota's 24 Hours of Le Mans entry – the TS040 – in future versions of the world's best-selling hybrid, Australian publication Drive.com.au says, citing an interview with Toyota Motor Sports' Yoshiaki Kinoshita. Specifically, the racecar uses supercapacitors because they're effective at storing energy created when the vehicle is under braking, only to quickly redistribute it on demand for rapid acceleration. Kinoshita said Toyota may apply this technology to the Prius within the next five years.
While declining to comment on specifics, Toyota spokeswoman Amanda Rice tells AutoblogGreen that the Le Mans vehicle "represents an advanced vehicle laboratory for hybrid vehicle and component development. The supercapacitor technology used in this vehicle with its fast charge and discharge capability offers great possibility for production car use." In her email, Rice added that the next-generation Prius will have smaller electric motors with greater power density and thermal efficiency, so let's add that to what we know or think we know about the fourth-generation model.
Toyota entered two vehicles in this year's Le Mans race, and one of them had secured the pole-position and was leading much of the race before calling it quits 15 hours in because of electrical issues. Audi ended up winning the race, marking its 13th victory in the history of the French endurance contest.