By Kevin Buckland
Toyota is set to unveil a fuel-cell concept car that aims to offer 50% more driving range than its current hydrogen-powered sedan in a technology push that defies a rising wave of battery-driven vehicles. Japan’s biggest auto manufacturer is targeting a 1,000-kilometre (620-mile) range for the Fine-Comfort Ride concept saloon under local standards, compared with about 650 kilometres for the current Mirai fuel-cell vehicle, according to a recent statement. The concept car, to be introduced at the Tokyo Motor Show next week, will include artificial intelligence and automated driving features.
Toyota is continuing to champion fuel-cell vehicles as the ultimate zero-emission cars, even as the falling cost of lithium-ion batteries has lured a majority of automakers to plug-in technology. China, the world’s largest market, said last month that it was working on a timeline to end the sale of internal-combustion vehicles, joining countries including France, India and the UK. While Japan has created a Hydrogen Society Roadmap to increase the number of fuel-cell vehicles on its roads to 40,000 by 2020, there are currently 2,200. Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates the government will only achieve 60% of its target.
Other than the Mirai, which Toyota launched in late 2014, only Honda has a hydrogen-powered car for sale, the Clarity Fuel Cell. Toyota’s luxury arm, Lexus, has also committed to bringing a hydrogen-powered model to the market, introducing a concept sedan in 2015. Toyota aims to boost annual global sales of fuel-cell vehicles 10-fold to 30,000 units by about 2020 or after with a broader line-up, it said.
The Fine Comfort-Ride saloon can accommodate six people and seats can be rearranged so that they all face inward. A Toyota spokeswoman declined to provide additional details of the powertrain. Although hydrogen vehicles can be refuelled in about three minutes and have a substantially longer range than electric cars, they suffer from a lack of infrastructure. There are only 91 hydrogen stations nationwide, against the government’s goal of 160 by 2020, according to BNEF. On the other hand, Japan has about 7,200 public quick chargers, according to an estimate by Nissan.
Nissan’s Leaf, for instance, takes about 30 minutes for a single charge that offers a range of about 400 kilometres.
To encourage the establishment of more refuelling stations, Toyota is developing hydrogen-powered CVs, including a delivery truck it will use in a project with convenience store 7-Eleven Japan. A pair of Toyota fuel-cell buses began operation in Tokyo this year.
Toyota will display a new fuel-cell concept bus called Sora alongside the Fine-Comfort Ride saloon at the Tokyo Motor Show, which begins October 25. The bus has room for 79 people. The concept has eight high-definition cameras monitoring the interior and exterior of the vehicle, fold-up seats, and acceleration control to prevent jerky starts. Toyota plans to begin sales of the bus from 2018. Toyota aims to have a fleet of more than 100 fuel-cell buses, mainly within Tokyo, before the city hosts the 2020 Olympic Games.