When Toyota first announced the Prius some 18 years ago, it wasn’t that big a deal to both car fans and the automotive industry. Things certainly have changed since then. Environmentally conscious energy sources are now at the forefront of automobile technology.
Which why when Toyota unveiled a hydrogen fuel cell car at the Tokyo Motor Show yesterday, the world sat up and had a good listen. Given their ground-breaking hybrids, when Japanese giants announce another alternative energy drive train, it now definitely is a very big deal.
The bright blue FCV Concept is the car creating the buzz and what makes it really significant is that (early adopters, you might want to write this down) will hit showrooms “sometime in 2015”. There have been other fuel cell concept cars in the past, but they have all remained just that. While hydrogen does seem to be the perfect energy source – the only by-product is water – there are practical problems to overcome.
How do you fill up? is the biggie. Unlike an EV, you can’t simply plug it into your wall socket and it’s not like there are any hydrogen filling stations around. Transporting the stuff is also a tricky affair. The gas needs to be sufficiently cooled to keep it in liquid form and having big tanks of cooled hydrogen around requires a lot of energy.
Toyota is being very bullish about the FCV, saying that its fuel cell car will have a range of 500 km on a single fill-up that will only take a few minutes to accomplish. Those stats give it a clear advantage over current EV – BMW’s i3 and Nissan’s Leaf – both of which have a range closer to 160 km and take a minimum of three hours to charge.
What Toyota haven’t mentioned is where or how the filling station structure will be created. Remember though, that similar levels of scepticism met the Prius’s announcement back in the day and Toyota’s rivals did a fair amount of laughing up their sleeves.
In 2015, Toyota will likely release the FCV to market in modest numbers to start with – and probably in places like California and the Scandi countries, which not only have the strictest emissions laws, but the highest number of environmentally conscious and well-off drivers. Yes, like any new tech, the car won’t be cheap. And like the increase in public recharging stations for EVs around the world, with a big player like Toyota going the fuel cell route, expect a similar thing to start happening with hydrogen filling stations.