A Japanese consortium of major automakers and energy firms said Friday it is considering setting up a company this year to spur the construction of hydrogen stations to stimulate sales of fuel cell vehicles.

The group — consisting of 11 companies including Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co., Honda Motor Co. and Tokyo Gas Co. — said the new company would "support hydrogen-station construction and operation" and work to reduce costs via regulatory reform.

That would mark a major step forward after the three automakers agreed in 2015 to cooperate in promoting FCVs, which run on hydrogen and oxygen and produce no harmful exhaust, emitting only water. FCVs are seen as an environment-friendly alternative to cars powered by fossil fuels or even batteries.

The consortium will work toward achieving the government's plan to have 160 hydrogen stations and 40,000 FCVs in use by fiscal 2020.

Nationwide, there are 98 hydrogen stations in use or under construction, compared with only about 1,800 FCVs sold.

High production costs have kept the vehicles and the stations from being used by the wider public.

The consortium also said it will "consider ways for broad participation by other companies in the future."

Among automakers selling FCVs, Toyota launched the Mirai in 2014 and Honda began selling the Clarity Fuel Cell model last year.