Toyota Fuel Cell Vehicle

Toyota plans to begin selling a fuel cell vehicle in 2015, in states covered by the California Air Resources Board, reports Mark Rechtin for Automotive News.

He writes:

Chris Hostetter, group vice president of strategic planning for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., said that prototype fuel cell vehicles cost about $1 million each when they were developed several years ago. But the cost factor for salable vehicles arriving in 2015 will be in the neighborhood of $50,000, he said.

That likely should place the sticker price of the vehicle under $100,000, Hostetter said at the Fortune Brainstorm Green conference here. [In Los Angeles, CA.]

But currently Toyota fuel cell vehicles are only allowed to be sold in California and New York, Rechtin notes, with New York being the only state that has a feasible hydrogen infrastructure. California had planned to have around 60 hydrogen stations through the state, but now plans less than half as many, and only eight of them are operational, Rechtin writes.

As Alex Davies writes for Business Insider, a fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) runs on hydrogen gas and oxygen, which is converted into electricity via a chemical reaction by an onboard fuel cell stack. An FCEV provides the best qualities of electric/hybrid and conventional gas burning cars, Davies writes.

Like a battery-powered electric vehicle, an FCEV offers environmental benefits, such as having as an emission only water vapor, not carbon dioxide. Although Jack Nerad, executive editorial director and market analyst at Kelley Blue Book, told Business Insider that water vapor is a greenhouse gas, he said it is “not generally regarded as bad as carbon dioxide.”

An FCEV offers the range of conventional cars, as it can be refueled on the go. The electricity is generated in the car, so one of the disadvantages of battery-powered electric vehicles, that the battery can run out of power, is avoided, Davies writes. In addition, the motor delivers better torque than most engine-powered cars, he says.

And there is no engine noise, Davies writes, although the lack of noise produced by electric vehicles has been the subject of some controversy, as this blog has noted. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has proposed a rule requiring electric and hybrid vehicles to make an audible noise when traveling at less than 18 miles an hour so that pedestrians — especially visually impaired ones — know a car is coming.

Davies writes that FCEVs face big challenges before they can come to market. One such hurdle is the production of hydrogen. It takes energy to produce, and if that energy does not come from renewable sources, “then fuel-cell cars are not as clean as they seem.”

There is also the matter of getting gas stations to add hydrogen refueling capability, but Davies says it is not likely many will do so until there are more FCEVs on the roads. In addition, the cost of the cars will be high, even though that cost has come down.

Despite the challenges, several carmakers are at work on this auto technology. A group called the Automotive Fuel Cell Cooperation, created by Ford, Daimler AG, and Renault-Nissan, is hoping for a 2017 or 2018 fuel cell vehicle, Davies writes. In addition, Aston Martin has become the first carmaker to place a hydrogen fuel cell-powered car on Germany’s Nurnurgring circuit. And Honda introduced an FCEV — the FCX Clarity — in 2008, when it was available for lease, but that did not lead to widespread sales, Davies writes.

Toyota is testing a fleet of 100 fuel cell vehicles based on the Highlander crossover, with a “real-world range” of 440 miles, Rechtin writes, and is on the verge of finalizing a deal to work with BMW. Toyota’s 2015 production vehicle will look more like a Prius. Toyota can expect to sell around 2,000 fuel cell vehicles in 2015, based on the California and New York markets, Rechtin writes.

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