Toyota has unveiled a prototype fuel cell powered sedan as the world’s largest carmaker gambles on hydrogen rather than electric technologies embraced by other firms.
First unveiled as a concept at last year's Tokyo Motor Show, the car will launch in Japan before April next year, and preparations are underway for launches in the USA and Europe during their summer of 2015.
Europe and US prices have not yet been decided but the car will be priced at roughly 7 million yen (£40,000) in Japan, though sales will initially be limited to regions of the country where hydrogen re-fuelling infrastructure is being developed.
Karl Schlicht, executive vice president of Toyota Motor Europe, said: “We are very excited by the arrival of fuel cell technology. Of course there are many challenges ahead, such as the availability of fuelling infrastructure and customer awareness.
“But our history with hybrid gives us all the experience we need to bring a new technology to the market. In Europe we will be taking it step by step, gradually introducing the car in selected markets. But we are confident that hydrogen will become increasingly popular as a way of powering vehicles.”
The car relies on the firm’s Fuel Cell Stack technology, which generates electricity from the chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen, combined with high-pressure hydrogen storage tanks.
Toyota began leasing the "Toyota FCHV", a fuel cell SUV, on a limited basis in Japan and the US in 2002, but the company claims ‘significant improvements’ have been made to the system since that means the car revealed today features performance and a cruising range similar to a petrol-engine vehicle.
The cars refuelling time of roughly three minutes is considerably better than its plug-in electric competitors, and when driven, it emits only the water vapour produced by the reaction between hydrogen and oxygen.
Toyota has been developing fuel cell vehicles in-house for more than 20 years, so it is keen to talk up hydrogen as a fuel source, pointing to the fact it can be produced from green-energy sources, when compressed it has a higher energy density than batteries and it could be used in a wide range of other applications, including home fuel and large-scale power generation.
But the expense of building refuelling stations, the inefficiency of the processes to create hydrogen from electricity and then to compress it, and the lack of any fuelling existing infrastructure are the reason most automotive firms are banking on plug-in electric technology instead.
Elon Musk, chairman of luxury electric car maker Tesla, has been vocal in his criticism of fuel-cell vehicles, referring to them as “fool cells” at Tesla’s annual meeting in California earlier this month.