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Toyota Champions a Hydrogen Future at the Paris Motor Show

Most of the world's attention when it comes to clean sustainable fuels for cars focuses on electric vehicles (EVs), but at least one major manufacturer is championing a different solution.

Toyota has been investing heavily in hydrogen fuel cell technology, and it has announced at the Paris Motor Show that it will be making these fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) available to buy in Europe from next year. The Japanese car maker had previously said that it would be selling FCVs in the US and in its domestic Japanese market from 2015, but it has now added Denmark, Germany and the UK to the list of countries where the cars will be initially marketed.

 

The Toyota FCVs are powered by a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen which releases energy that can be transformed into electricity to be used by a motor powering the car. The only waste product is water vapour from the exhaust. It is a clever, clean and renewable technology but, as always, there are problems to overcome. A major barrier to the adoption of the technology is the absence of a suitable distribution network. FCVs need to be refuelled with hydrogen but, at the moment, there is almost no supply network. The question is, then, why Toyota has put the cars up for sale and why anyone would buy one.

 

Toyota's managing officer, Satoshi Ogiso, tackles this issue by saying that the company is moving forward with FCVs in 'baby steps'. He suggests that his company is playing a long game with its FCV programme. He also points to the scepticism of the industry and motoring press when Toyota launched the first Prius hybrid electricity and petrol car. It was confidently said that they would never catch on, but just a month ago Toyota celebrated the sale of its seven-millionth Prius. Mr Ogiso was involved in the introduction of the Prius and said that the FCV launch would follow a similar approach. He said: "The introduction of the FCV range will be limited, step-by-step and gradual. Toyota sees very much a similar approach and expectations to the strategy followed when introducing hybrids back in the nineties. It took time to bed in this technology and grow the initial market."

 

Mr Osigo pointed out that FCVs are being developed for motoring in the coming decades, but Toyota is determined to make a start with the technology and help to build a market for the vehicles.

 

The major difference between the Prius and FCVs in terms of their introduction is that the Prius enjoyed an existing distribution network when it was launched. Being a hybrid, it could simply use existing petrol stations. Currently, however, there are few hydrogen filling stations available, and this results in a familiar chicken and egg argument: who wants to buy a car that can't be refuelled and who wants to build refuelling stations when there are no cars to use them?

 

Toyota is very much aware of this argument but points out that a pump-priming approach is required to kick-start the market. At the moment, there are 13 hydrogen refuelling stations in the UK and this will rise, modestly, to 15 by the end of next year. Denmark matches the UK with 15 stations being planned, and Germany is some way ahead, with a commitment to have 50 stations ready by the end of 2015. Japan has more still, with 100 stations scheduled for completion by the end of 2015. California, meanwhile, is spending $200 million of public money building a network of 100 hydrogen refuelling stations.

 

In the UK, the government-funded H2Mobility project was set up to look at the sort of infrastructure that would be needed to get the FCV market going. It has concluded that only 65 stations would be needed across the country to provide a workable initial network in the initial years of roll-out. Toyota has said that it is looking for one station every 120 miles on the motorway and trunk road network, with a greater concentration in heavily populated urban areas.

 

There is a significant amount of disagreement over the merits of hydrogen fuel cell technology, but it does have major advantages over electric cars. Toyota's FCV can be refuelled in just three minutes and has a range of 430 miles. It also has a top speed in excess of 100mph.

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