By on July 1, 2013

Fuel Cell - Picture courtesy tfl.gov.uk

We’ve been saying it for years that Toyota, along with several other automakers, will launch a hydrogen fuel cell car in 2015. Two years ago, you heard it from Toyota’s  Chief Engineer Satoishi Ogiso. A month ago, Toyota’s America-chief Jim Lentz promised that “the first fuel cell sedan is coming to the U.S. in 2015.” Now, Bloomberg says that “at the Tokyo Motor Show in November, Toyota plans to show a hydrogen-powered sedan that would be sold as a 2015 model.”

Bloomberg did not unearth anything you would not already know:  The 2015 fuel cell model will be expensive. Two years ago, amounts in the neighborhood of $100,000 had been mentioned, but Ogiso wanted to bring the price down. Now, Bloomberg says the fuel cell car “could be available in U.S. dealerships as soon next year for a price comparable to a mid-size BMW or Tesla Model S.”

Bloomberg says “a mass-market for hydrogen cars may be a decade or more away,” but Ogiso wanted to start going mainstream by 2020.

One company will miss the hydrogen year of 2015, and that’s Volkswagen,  R&D chief Ulrich Hackenberg told TTAC last week in Wolfsburg:

“We are concentrating on diesel. Fuel cell technology faces an infrastructure problem.  The gas must be transported refrigerated. The total CO2 balance sheet is not so good, local emissions are quite nice. Range is also good.”

Hackenberg said that Volkswagen continues to work on fuel cell technologies, that MQB is ready is ready for it. Volkswagen focuses on diesel and thinks CNG has a future in Europe, and that hybrid seems the way to go in the U.S. and China.

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40 Comments on “Toyota Will Launch 2015 Fuel Cell Car, Volkswagen Won’t...”


  • avatar
    niky

    H2 is problematic in so many ways. If it ever does succeed to gain more than a tiny foothold in the consumer market, it’ll be a miracle.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      I would be more interested in buying a fuel-cell vehicle than I would any EV, plug-in or hybrid.

      I, too, believe that the future is Hydrogen, along with NatGas and good ol’ gasoline.

      My guess would be that Toyota will bring to market an all-electric power train with a fuel-cell to generate electricity, which charges the battery which powers the electric motor(s), like the Volt powertrain does with a gasoline-fueled Generator.

  • avatar
    Commando

    Another alternative energy vehicle where the ROI is NEVER.
    We’ve been screwing with hybrids and EV’s for years now and they have never provided a realistic ROI to this day. So after obscene amounts of government financial backing we can now start dumping $$$ into the next feel good vehicle that’s supposed to be the Holy Grail.

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      You are a perfect example of American ignorance and poor math.

      Ever heard of “Prius”?

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        Also looking at the Leaf’s latest price, it also has a pretty good ROI since fueling with electricity is about a third of gasoline. It’s also likely EVs’ maintenance costs will be significantly less than ICEs’, but we’ll just ahve to wait to get the real data on that.

        • 0 avatar
          CJinSD

          How about Nissan’s ROI? For alternative energy cars to actually be self-sustaining, they need to make sense for manufacturers and consumers without government interference. That may well be the case for the Prius at this point, but it isn’t for EVs that need massive subsidies to sell, even then usually at a loss.

          • 0 avatar
            gslippy

            You are correct. My Leaf has a good ROI for me only due to the incentives thrown my way. Saving $100/month on gas is significant, but would take forever to pay for the significantly higher price of the car vs a competitive ICE car.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            There’s a place for EVs and Hybrids. And anyone who wants one should be able to buy one.

            I am against the subsidies funded by the tax payers because the sales of EVs are negligible in a 15-million SAAR market.

            That said, anyone should be able to buy the exact vehicle they want, gas, diesel and EV.

      • 0 avatar
        Commando

        This Prius you speak of. Is that the vehicle ignorant Americans buy despite it’s hype exceeding it’s actual benefits?
        My math, which I studied up to Advanced Differential Equations II and Engineering Statistical Analysis, says the economics of manufacturing, buying, and operating a Prius is a joke. Go drink the tree hugging Kool-ade, sir.

        • 0 avatar
          danwat1234

          The real world MPG of the regular Prius is 47MPG. Look up the data on fuelly.com and fueleconomy.gov. The numbers don’t lie.
          Toyota has sold over 5 million hybrids for a reason, because they work.
          They are not only advantageous in the city but on the highway as well, with their more efficient Atkinson cycle engine and soon to be a lean burning turbocharged engine and AWD for the 4th gen 2015 Pri.

          You can buy a used Prius for $8K or less, they are very reliable. You can buy a new battery pack for $2500 or less and install it yourself.

  • avatar

    Short of some genius building a car himself that uses solar panels on his houses’ roof to charge an EV in his garage which uses a tank of SEA WATER – splitting the hydrogen from the oxygen so that the hydrogen can be burned for fuel…

    …alternative energy cars are a joke.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    I’m surprised Toyota would pursue this delusion. VW is on a better path.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      That’s what some people said in the days before the first Prius came to market.

      If anyone can pull it off, it will be Toyota, and they will licensed to anyone who wants it.

      More importantly, many fence-sitters will be drawn into buying and the sales-curve will be very similar to that of the Prius when it first hit the market.

  • avatar
    L'avventura

    There is a massive demand to better utilize the world’s natural gas resource: hydrogen, Toyota thinks, is the most efficient option.

    The economics of energy are changing as technologies like fracking make US into a massive natural gas producing country (70% of America’s natural gas will come from fracking). Countries like Russia, Canada, Brazil, and Iran are already huge natural gas countries.

    Methane hydrates are also expected to make resource poor countries like Japan into natural gas producers (commercial production expected 2018), and which is why Toyota may be interested. Not to mention SE Asian countries, China, and India.

    Really, the success/failure of hydrogen and other transportation alternatives will really depend on petroleum prices in 10-20 years when hydrogen cars start being a viable option. If in the US, in around 2000 were in the $1 range, in the decade since, its broken the $4 barrier multiple times.

    If a decade from now, gas prices in the US approach or even surpass $10/gallon (and higher in Asia/Europe) alternatives methods of transportation start being looked at. If gas remain stable or cheap then hydrogen and EVs future will remain relegated.

    • 0 avatar

      “Really, the success/failure of hydrogen and other transportation alternatives will really depend on petroleum prices in 10-20 years when hydrogen cars start being a viable option. ”

      ALL ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SOURCES are linked to fossil fuels for 3 very simple reasons:

      #1 All useable energy on Earth’s surface comes from the sun. (Radioactive minerals require fossil fuels to be mined and used to build structures to contain them)

      #2 Plants do NOTHING but suck up the sun’s energy and grow by bundling the energy into complex molecules – THUS CREATING FOSSIL FUELS over time. Along with zooplankton on the ocean floor…People can’t “eat” solar energy. PLANTS DO.

      #3 Fossil fuels are safer to use, easier to transport and simpler to maintain than ANYTHING ELSE.

      • 0 avatar
        CelticPete

        Nuclear power comes from another sun..that exploded. And if we allowed reprocessing of fuel and different reactor designs we already have mined enough Nuclear fuel to last us generations.

        Our current Nuclear “waste” still has 99% of its energy. And we know how to use that energy.

      • 0 avatar
        Xeranar

        That is so infinitely inaccurate my head hurts. A combination of solar and wind could easily power the entire US. Solar and wind power are far easier to handle and surprisingly enough in the places in the US where we prefer to mine nuclear and most other important material solar and wind would be viable options for powering mining equipment.

        That being said, Toyota is #1 auto maker in the world. They can change the game by themselves and the ultra-conservative exploitation industries really can’t stop them.

        • 0 avatar

          And just how would Toyota operate without the extractive industries?

          As a miner once pointed out to me, everything that we have comes from the ground. We either grow it, mine for it, or drill for it. Thinking that you can live your life without needing the extractive industries is naive. Where do you think the metal and plastics come from that are used to make solar panels and wind generators?

          • 0 avatar
            stuki

            Unless Toyota product planners are huffing substantial amounts of whatever fumes they expect to power these cars with, they’re expecting to make H2 from increasingly cheap natural gas. So it’s still fossil fuels. Natural gas is more hydrogen rich than heavier fossils; so if fuel cells are sufficiently more efficient than natural gas ICEs, the energy obtainable from burning only the Hs in gas in a fuel cell; may be as capable of useful work as the combined energy from burning both the Hs and the Cs in an ICE. Someone better educated than me about the actual processes involved, could possibly chime in.

            Regardless, Toyota’s planners are way to rational to base their product plans solely around the world’s #1 pursuer of extractive resources: The US government extracting money from everyone in sight t pay for it’s own currently fashionable follies.

          • 0 avatar
            L'avventura

            Toyota, not surprisingly, own their own extractive industry company in the shape Toyota Tsusho.

            Toyota Tsusho mines for lithium in Argentina, rare earths in Canada, mine tin in Morocco, have their own coal-methane LNG projects, not to mention are building the $4B Sudan-Kenya oil pipeline.

          • 0 avatar
            Xeranar

            Technically the power exploitation industry is split from say the iron mining and other permanent substances. As is stands, I could live my life largely unchanged if I relied on mostly recycled metal and plastic not to mention bio-plastics that have begun to supplant the oil-based plastics.

            But thanks for playing, Ronnie. Did you enjoy attacking the strawman you setup? I never made mention that toyota would refute them and disregard their business but that they wouldn’t be beholden to the conventional views held by these groups.

    • 0 avatar
      niky

      That move would all be well and good. If not for the fact that you can compress and bottle natural gas and use it as fuel for an internal combustion engine without going through that extra step.

      • 0 avatar
        L'avventura

        CNG vehicles have never caught on in the US, primarily because the CNG cars make less power, are more expensive, and have safety cost/concerns.

        I lot of the problems that CNG faces are similar to hydrogen in terms of storage method, safety, and infrastructure, however, electrical motor based hydrogen system is dramatically more efficient than a notoriously inefficient combustion engine system.

        More importantly, a hydrogen fuel-cell stack offers modularity with the EV systems. This allows concurrent development between batteries and hydrogen fuel cell, interchangeable based on progress of those respective technologies and market conditions. It allows manufacturers to hedge their technology bets.

        And while CNG vehicle technology development has largely stalled, FCV and EV technologies have a lot of room for development.

        More importantly, rather than making cars on a model-to-model basis like what CNG cars would require, EV/FCV allows for scaling of different vehicle types using a different combination of motors, batteries, and fuel cells on single platform.

        • 0 avatar
          niky

          CNG vehicles are not fundamentally different from gasoline vehicles except for problems of storage.

          You’re right about those problems, though… they’re not much easier to overcome than with hydrogen, and yes, hydrogen can be used for EVs.

          But I’m iffy about the extra conversion required. I’d rather have that methane used to generate power to charge a straight EV.

          • 0 avatar
            L'avventura

            CNG has a much lower energy density than gasoline and produces less power. There is an excellent review that TTAC did of the CNG Civic GX:

            http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/review-2012-honda-civic-natural-gas/

            The biggest difference is that electric motors are incredibly efficient, converting the chemical energy (battery, fuel cell) to free electrons (electrical energy) can be greater than 90% efficient. The efficiency for a combustion efficiency is, at best, 35% efficient.

            Furthermore, hydrogen can be created from natural gas at near 99% efficiency:

            http://www.gizmag.com/hydrogen-extraction-natural-gas/18645/

            CNG vehicles as a technology to develop over the coming decades is dead-end. It offers minimal to no benefits over existing combustion solutions with a massive restructuring of infrastructure.

            If massive infrastructural investments need to be made, it needs to be made on technology that offers a significant level of efficiency improvements. Which is why EVs and FCVs are being looked at, they are compatible technologies. EVs is the first step, eventually when hydrogen technology is accessible batteries may become shifted to a fuel cell stack.

            But it comes down to the relative economics of fuel prices, technological developments on batteries and fuel-cells, infrastructure, etc. Who knows where energy prices will be a decade or two out? Hydrogen is another way to hedge these bets.

          • 0 avatar
            rnc

            Think the ideal, especially from VW’s standpoint, is with very little modifications, you can run a diesel engine on a 10% diesel, 90% CNG mix (note LNG can be substituted 100% for diesel, but like H2, not practical for the same reasons). Would greatly reduce emissions, all the way from particulates to CO2, have feeling that is directions VW has decided to head in without saying it (atleast for EU market, I mean the infrastructure for CNG is there, pipelines everywhere, just put compressors at the stations, solar panels on the roof, could even have single dual fuel dispensors).

            *this is a comment, not to worried about spelling or grammer.

          • 0 avatar
            niky

            Steam reforming is still the process of choice, and that’s around 85% efficient at most, on an industrial scale.

            From what I read of the abstract on sorption… the conversion itself 99% efficient. But this does NOT mean an energy loss of a mere 1%. This just means that most of the hydrogen is captured. It doesn’t take into account the energy required to make the catalyst or the sorbate or the energy required to generate the heat. The paper shows that overall efficiency is still below that of commercial steam reforming. Around 80%. And this does NOT take into account all energy inputs.

            http://alexandria.tue.nl/extra2/709035.pdf

            The benefits seem to be much more along the lines of nearly complete CO2 capture during the process. Which makes it more palatable to green energy regulations, but not more efficient.

            Electric motors are efficient. Batteries and fuel cells are not. Fuel cells may be efficient, but they’re nowhere near 90% efficient. Around 50% efficient, depending on how much voltage you’re trying to pump out.

            That’s much better than a natural gas ICE, but in the end, all those extra step losses still balance out in the negative. A CNG vehicle still has heavy, expensive tanks, but they’re an order less expensive than fuel cells or the catalysts required both to extract the hydrogen and to turn it into electricity.

            (of course, I’d prefer just converting the methane straight into electricity… but again, most sources are just too far off-grid)

            If we’re going to put up with such conversion losses, GTL seems more worth it, since the transportation and storage of liquid fuels is much less expensive than with hydrogen.

  • avatar
    Da Coyote

    Imagine, independent capitalist companies are taking varied approaches to fueling future cars. Some will succeed. Most will not. I wish them all success, but will let the laws of physics and economics be the judge.

    However, one means of picking losers with almost 100% success rate is to see which one the bottom-O-the SAT barrel dorks in government pick.

    So – investor advice – dooeth NOT what those who could never have real jobs in industry (e.g., politicians) choose think should be done.

  • avatar
    Brock_Landers

    VW: We are concentrating on diesel…

    That is not a honest statement. Already VW-s own turbocharged direct injection petrol engines are getting almost the same mpg than similar capacity diesels. And diesel fuel itself is more expensive. Petrol engines are cleaner and cheaper to produce. Anyone working in the automotive sector in Europe knows that the newer “clean” diesels are causing lot of headaches for the manufacturer during warranty and after warranty the headaches are transferred to the owners of the car. DPF and EGR issues just to name a few. The full list of potential problematic details is long.

  • avatar
    motormouth

    A bifuel petrol/hydrogen vehicle can get the best of both worlds.

  • avatar
    W.Minter

    “The gas must be transported refrigerated”
    Ulrich, apparently you’ve never heard of Honda’s Home Energy Station? Neither has anyone of your 16,000 engineers? Nah.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Home_Energy_Station

    • 0 avatar
      wmba

      +1

      VW admits no superiority in engineering to anyone, and could well be the poster-boy for the Not Invented Here syndrome.

      All this flap about MLB and MQB kits are the outward expression of this. Our esteemed editor, having been brought up in the VW way, has embraced their not very clear explanation of its advantages. So much so, I fear, that he has dismissed from his mind the way Toyota makes the Yaris at Sendai, a method he devoted a very fine article to some two years ago.

      http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/02/toyota%E2%80%99s-secret-weapon-low-cost-car-factories/?ModPagespeed=noscript

      In that article are the thoughts Toyota has behind low cost car assembly. VW’s system relies on massive investment in production machinery. Toyota’s does not. Guess which company enjoys a higher ROI? You can read an article in a similar vein about Honda’s relatively low-tech assembly methods at:

      http://www.sae.org/mags/aei/manuf/11362

      I am afraid that, in my opinion the Germans go quite over the top on automatic assembly methods and strict obedience to a “system” designed for maximum flexibility that may well box them in a corner when conditions materially change, because the situation they did not envision actually comes to pass.

      • 0 avatar
        alanv

        I am not getting into spat over Germans vs rest,consider this the Prius sold some 3 million ,I am not sure it made money for Toyota as world wide it is still insignificant volume,consider the cost and that besides the ugly looks and small boot capacity the real world gains are small in fact some non hybrid cars with same interior volume are lighter on fuel, so not to knock Toyota as they showed some bravery,Most mainstream manufacturers see a place for some hybrid cars and have offered low volume models like electric only cars.I believe we are witnessing a time when a mixture of propulsion is going to make driving complex and interesting .No manufacturer has crystal ball and Toyota is simply gambling ,don’t think they are pioneers or leaders in research on all topics ,you only have to look at le mans they needed an extra 16 liters of petrol and Audi still won!

    • 0 avatar
      niky

      It’s much more efficient to produce hydrogen on an industrial level at the source.

      You’re either cracking hydrogen on an industrial scale (with less losses) and are stuck transporting and storing the difficult-to-transport hydrogen, or, you’re delivering natural gas from far-flung fields or remote rigs to homes and distribution centers.

      Of course, I prefer gas-to-liquid conversion. So far, this has proved costly, but it helps increase storage density and ease-of-transport.

  • avatar
    VA Terrapin

    Toyota is doing this for one, maybe two reasons: 1) Toyota wants a new eco halo car now that halo around the Prius has been superceded by the Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt and Tesla Model S, and/or 2) Toyota is building a compliance car as intimated in a link in the article above. Obviously, it’s highly unlikely that a hydrogen fuel cell car will be a big success early on.

    As for CNG for Europe, I’m not sure why. Europe imports lots of natural gas from Russia, which is prone to disrupting shipments of natural gas to Europe for political reasons. Besides, lots of Europe is against fracking, which is a big reason why natural gas has gotten cheaper in America while overall commodity prices have risen.


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