Toyota Motor Corp.’s vision of a hydrogen future will begin with a ¥7 million ($69,000) car.
That is the price of Toyota’s upcoming fuel-cell vehicle, the world’s largest carmaker said in a statement Wednesday. The Camry-sized car will go on sale to Japanese consumers before next April, followed months later in the U.S. and Europe, it said.
The car represents the path Toyota will take toward zero emission, choosing fuel cells over the plug-in electric technologies embraced by the likes of Tesla Motors Inc. The maker of the Prius will join Hyundai Motor Co. in facing the challenge of making these vehicles affordable and easier to use given the lack of refueling infrastructure.
Hyundai began offering its hydrogen-powered Tucson crossover via $499-a-month leases this month in California.
Still, Toyota began developing fuel-cell cars in 1996, and used the hybrid technology in the Prius by swapping the car’s gasoline engine with a fuel-cell stack.
While fuel-cell cars are propelled entirely by electric motors, like those in Tesla’s $71,000 Model S, they do not need to be plugged into power outlets to store energy. Instead, hydrogen gas passes through a stack of plastic membranes and platinum-dusted plates to produce electricity.
The stacks remain expensive because of the precious metals needed, as do the high-pressure tanks.
Tesla Chairman Elon Musk, 42, has been vocal in his criticism of fuel-cell vehicles as being inferior to electric vehicles, even though Tesla partnered with Toyota as a supplier for the electric-powered RAV4.
“As people probably know, I’m not the biggest fan of fuel cells — I usually call them “fool cells,’ ” Musk said this month at Tesla’s annual meeting.
Behind the push to lower emissions are stricter regulations. In the U.S., greenhouse-gas limits will step up in 2017 and will require automakers to double the average fuel-efficiency of their fleets to 54.5 miles per gallon (4.3 liters per 100 km) by 2025. That has led to production of dozens of new hybrids, plug-ins, electric vehicles and models powered by fuel-saving gasoline engines.
In Japan this month, the government unveiled a road map to support the spread of fuel-cell vehicles and cultivate an industry able to generate ¥1 trillion in revenue by 2030. The government aims to bring down prices of fuel-cell cars to about ¥2 million (less than $20,000) by 2025, after subsidies.
Consumer adoption of fuel-cell vehicles may also hinge on the infrastructure. California plans to provide about $47 million for 28 new stations selling hydrogen for fuel-cell cars. Those stations, combined with 16 in development and 10 already in operation, will be enough to support at least 10,000 vehicles, Jim Lentz, Toyota’s North American chief, said last month in an interview.
Toyota, which also is providing at least $7.2 million to a California startup to operate hydrogen stations, has said fuel-cell autos will be an easier zero-emissions option for many consumers than battery-only vehicles because their range, performance and refueling time are competitive with gasoline cars.