With zero emissions driving and attractive cost savings in fuel economy, Toyota SA Motors CEO Andrew Kirby believes that the future of hydrogen is in commercial vehicles.
“The most attractive products for hydrogen fuel cells are trucks and busses. Medium and extra heavy trucks and busses would be where the focus is.” – Andrew Kirby, Toyota South Africa Motors President and CEO.
The Smart Mobility Africa Summit at the Gallagher Convention Centre in Johannesburg not only presented South Africa’s first on-road demonstration of a hydrogen mobility ecosystem but also gave a glimpse into Toyota’s plans with the novel form of propulsion. The event had Kirby ferry several VIPs around in one of two locally homologated hydrogen-powered Mirai sedans as part of an ecosystem proof of concept. With a hydrogen Hilux also on the loose in the UK, Alex Shahini asked whether the technology will be featured in Toyota products in the short term for the South African market.
Despite the proof of concept being demonstrated with a premium sedan from the firm, Kirby added that Toyota intends to utilise the technology elsewhere:
“The hydrogen market is best suited to longer distance travel and larger vehicles such as trucks and buses, so Toyota is involved in several projects where the FCEVs are commercial vehicles made by Toyota or conversions of existing models from other manufacturers. There was an important development in this regard recently when Toyota UK unveiled and demonstrated a Hilux bakkie fitted with a specially adapted Mirai fuel cell powertrain.”
With the hydrogen Hilux tested by Toyota UK being primarily assembled and built at the Japanese automaker’s Prospecton facility in Durban, there is a strong possibility that the model could arrive in South Africa in the future. In terms of NEVs produced locally to be built alongside the Corolla Cross hybrid, Kirby further added that they are investigating several options although there is nothing concrete to announce at the moment. This is crucial for two reasons, the first is to cater to Europe’s pending change to zero-emission vehicles and retain the export volumes as they transition away from conventional ICE models while the second is to meet the growing demand locally.
Kirby mentioned that a key aspect of transitioning locally is working with the South African government and placing industrial policies to accelerate the adoption of alternative powertrains. At the moment, NEV technologies are very expensive as a final product and the premium cost is not affordable for customers unless there is a program that is customised for manufacturing and selling vehicles locally at a more competitive price. The short-term hope is to finalise this program in order to get approval for investments to manufacture these vehicles in South Africa.
Thereafter, the next hurdle hydrogen faces is a reduced cost of the fuel as well as increasing its appeal to the market, which should be an easy feat considering the cost benefits alone. Realistically, the road ahead for hydrogen in South Africa is uncertain, at least for the short term. Should all of these factors fall in place within the next several years and mass production be viable for hydrogen, this could be the trumping solution to EVs in South Africa’s very unique context of wanting to embrace zero emissions mobility.