A concept hydrogen fuel cell vehicle (FCV) that can also power a home has been unveiled by Toyota, with the promise that it will come on sale as early as next year.
The concept vehicle, a four-door mid-size sedan, is on display at International CES 2014 alongside a prototype that Toyota say has been under extensive and extreme road testing in both hot and cold conditions in North America for more than a year – consistently delivering a driving range of about 300 miles and zero-to-sixty acceleration of about 10 seconds, all with no emissions, other than water vapor. Refueling of its hydrogen tanks takes three to five minutes.
“We aren’t trying to re-invent the wheel; just everything necessary to make them turn,” said Bob Carter, senior vice president of automotive operations for Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), U.S.A. Inc. “Fuel cell electric vehicles will be in our future sooner than many people believe, and in much greater numbers than anyone expected.”
Toyota has been involved in fuel cell R&D for the last 20 years, with “massive” investment, according to a statement. Since 2002, the company has been testing and developing a series of prototypes in North America. In those 11 years – and more than a million miles – it has been able to dramatically reduce the cost of building a fuel cell powertrain – estimating a 95% cost reduction in the powertrain and fuel tanks of the vehicle it will launch in 2015, compared to what it cost to build the original prototype in 2002.
Toyota claim a fully-fueled vehicle will be capable of supplying enough energy to power a house for a week in an emergency. Engineers are currently looking to develop an external power supply device that could be used in this manner.
Toyota plan to launch the vehicle initially in California. To this end the company has been working with the University of California Irvine’s Advanced Power and Energy Program (APEP) to help map out potential locations for new hydrogen fueling stations. Based on the APEP model – which assumes that owners want to reach a refueling station within 6 minutes – an initial cluster map requires only 68 station sites in the San Francisco Bay area and Silicon Valley, as well as Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties. If implemented, these could handle a fuel cell population conservatively estimated by APEP at about 10,000 vehicles.
The prospect of FCVs and solar powered vehicles – as demonstrated with Ford’s C-MAX Solar Energi concept EV, also unveiled at CES 2014 – is going to offer alternative options to plug-ins. Besides the initial purchase costs, “fuel” costs, i.e. the cost per mile of hydrogen versus electricity, can be expected to be an important consideration in buying decisions.