What Does Toyota Know That The Rest Of Us Do Not

Toyota undoubtedly wears the crown when it comes to hybrid cars. Sales of the Japanese automaker’s hybrid vehicles passed the six millionth mark last year. Across the world, Toyota’s hybrids span 24 passenger car models and one plug-in hybrid. In the next two year, it is expected to launch a further 15 new hybrid models.

Leading the hybrid pack is the Prius (beloved by most, hated by some, namely Jeremy Clarkson), which first burst into the scene in 1999. As of 31 December 2013, Toyota has sold almost 3.2 million Prius hybrid vehicles, with owners who are the likes of Leonardo Dicaprio and Jessica Alba.

So, why is Toyota’s spawning another favourite child? During the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show in January this year, Toyota showed off its offspring of another breed – of the fuel cell genre. The Toyota FCV concept car is a mid-sized four-door sedan that allegedly has a 300 miles range, top speed of 100mph, zero-to-60mph acceleration in 10 seconds and, of course, emissions of solely water vapour. Sales will only begin in 2015, but the production model is expected to closely resemble the concept version.

Toyota expects to be able to keep the FCV at a “reasonable price” as it is confident that strong consumer demand will drive down cost. The 2007 Toyota Highlander FCHV reportedly cost USD1 million to make, but seven years down the road and new technology advancements, this FCV compact sedan is expected to cost a ‘mere’ USD50 000.

According to Consumer Reports, which test drove a development mule of the vehicle, “It showed an abundance of effortless power right out of the gate and a quiet glide throughout.”

The 100kw FCV stack lies under the front seats, and one hydrogen tank is located under the rear seat with another behind it. Together, the tanks can contain five kilogrammes of pressurised hydrogen.

Just like the Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell (which will be launched by end of March), Toyota’s FCV will be launched in environmentally-conscious California where hydrogen fuelling stations are relatively more available (if nine stations can be considered so), and the Golden State is already committed to expanding the infrastructure to support more FCV vehicles (100 fuelling station by 2024). Bob Carter, Senior VP of Automotive Operations in Toyota Motor Sales US, emphasised on “location, location, location” rather than quantity. He said, “…it will take only about 68 stations to regularly refuel about 10 000 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.”

It is expected that Toyota’s still unnamed hydrogen vehicle will also be available on a lease basis. However, since Hyundai is launching the Tucson Fuel Cell a year ahead of Toyota’s FCV, the former gets to make all the mistakes and the latter has the advantage of learning from it. So, any details about the Toyota FCV may still change.

So, back to the question of “What does Toyota know that the rest of us do not?” Is there no real future for electric cars and are hybrids on the way out? Or will all these vehicles exist together in the future as a variety of options? Keep in mind that Toyota lost a lot of money when the Prius was launched way back when, and now it owns the hybrid industry. We would not dismiss Toyota’s direction so easily (like the hotshot founder of a famous electric car company so openly did).

image: wired.com, consumerreports.org

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