Toyota FCV Hydrogen Fuel Cell Car At The CES 2014: Will This Be The HFC Car To Make History?

By @angeloyoung_ on
  • 002 - FCV
    The Toyota FCV-R test vehicle has been making its runs in North America in recent months, in this case test driving in cold temperatures in Canada. Toyota
  • Toyota FCV-R hydrogen fuel cell vehicle
    A French television announcer discusses the Toyota FCV-R at the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January 2013. This concept of the hydrogen fuel cell car was a shell without an engine. IBTimes/Angelo Young
  • 004 - FCX
    The Honda FCX-Clarity has been on the market since 2008 as a lease vehicle in Southern California. About 25 Claritys are in use in and around Los Angeles, the location of most U.S. public hydrogen fueling stations. Honda
  • 010 - Honda F
    Honda's FCEV concept showed at the Los Angeles auto expo in November. Honda says it will offer a new hydrogen fuel cell vehicle to replace the Clarity by 2015. Wikimedia Commons
  • 005 - GM Electrovan
    General Motors was the first automaker to produce a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, the Electrovan, way back in 1966. Wikimedia Commons
  • 008 - Chevrolet
    The Chevrolet Sequel concept SUV from General Motors, 2006. Wikimedia Commons
  • 006 - NECAR
    Mercedes-Benz NECARs hydrogen-powered test vehicles were made between 1994 and 2000. Wikimedia Commons
  • 009 - Focus FCV
    The Ford Focus FCV was leased experimentally from 2002 to 2005. Wikimedia Commons
  • 007 - Equinox
    The Chevy Equinox fuel cell research vehicle topped 100,000 miles of real world driving last year. GM
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At the 2013 Detroit North American International Auto Show, Toyota displayed its futuristic-looking FCV-R hydrogen fuel cell concept car. When asked to peek under the hood, a Toyota representative smiled. “There isn’t an engine under there,” he said. “We’re using it to store the brochures.”

Almost a year after of showing off that flashy blue shell in Detroit, Toyota Motor Corp. (TYO:7203) rolled into the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week with a working test version of its hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.

The test version is still under wraps to hide the external design features, but it’s what’s under the hood that really matters, and what Toyota hopes heralds the future of motor transport: a tank of compressed hydrogen gas and an electric drivetrain powered by a reaction between hydrogen and oxygen whose byproduct is water vapor.

The so-called “Car of the Future,” as Toyota bills it, is expected to hit the U.S. market next year in California, where most of the very few public hydrogen fueling stations are currently located.

There are many challenges to mainstreaming hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Toyota says it has a handle on one of them: price. It hasn’t released any details recently in that regard except to say that it has managed to reel in costs by utilizing many components it has already developed. Early last year, Chris Hostetter, head of Toyota USA strategic planning, told Automotive News the car would cost from $50,000-plus to as much as six figures, meaning the rolled-out FCV-R could be priced around the same as the Tesla Model S, carving out a niche among wealthier California early adopters.

The bigger challenge for the wider adoption of HFCVs will be the lack of refueling infrastructure. The U.S. Department of Energy currently lists 10 public hydrogen refueling stations, compared with about 6,700 public electric vehicle charging stations. The virtual absence of hydrogen outlets will have to be addressed before Toyota or any other automaker can steer the public toward HFCVs.

To that end Toyota says it’s working with University of California Irvine’s Advanced Power and Energy Program to establish a roadmap for where hydrogen refueling stations should be strategically placed. The model assumes HFCV owners will want to be within six minutes of the nearest refueling station. That kind of population is still many years off, but California is currently investing $200 million to build up to 100 stations in the next decade.

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