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Toyota to Introduce Fuel Cell Model This Year

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On: Tue, Jul 2, 2013 at 11:20AM | By: Chris Weiss

Toyota to Introduce Fuel Cell Model This Year

Fuel cell vehicles have long offered one of the best solutions to greener commuting... on paper. The cars are powered by electric motors, but instead of relying on electricity stored in a battery that drops dead after 100 miles, the fuel cells create their own electricity from a chemical reaction between stored hydrogen and air. They emit only water vapor and heat, and offer the potential for longer driving ranges than battery-powered electrics.

Several manufacturers have developed and tested fuel cell technology, but no fuel cell vehicles have made it to the general consumer market. Though fuel cell technology still faces major challenges, Toyota appears ready to introduce the first. Bloomberg reports that the Japanese automaker that spearheaded the hybrid movement with the Prius will do the same for fuel cell technology, introducing its first fuel cell car at November's Tokyo Motor Show.

Toyota and other fuel cell car manufacturers, including Honda and Mercedes, have offered fuel cell vehicles in pilot fleet programs in California, but none of them have yet brought a vehicle to market. Toyota plans to change this when it shows a fuel cell-powered sedan in Tokyo, getting it into dealerships as early as next year as a 2015 model. Bloomberg's report supports previous information about a 2015 launch.

While Toyota has not provided a specific price, Bloomberg quotes Chris Hostetter, U.S. group vice president for advanced product development, in stating that it will be competitive with the $69,900 Tesla Model S. At that price, it may very well be badged a Lexus.

The biggest advantage of a fuel cell vehicle versus a traditional battery-powered electric is in its range. The new Toyota will offer around 300 miles range per tank of hydrogen, which is triple the best estimate of many standard EVs and above the265-mile EPA-tested range of the Tesla Model S.

While fuel cells can solve some of the problems of BEVs, they're not without problems of their own. Hydrogen may be common enough in drinking water, but it is not readily available as a fuel. Hydrogen fueling infrastructure is even scarcer than electric charging infrastructure, and the Alternative Fuels Data Center lists 10 hydrogen fueling stations in the entire United States, nearly all of which are in Southern California. Hydrogen cannot be distributed by the same channels as gasoline and would require significant investment to become a practical fueling option.

As the potential price tag suggests, fuel cell vehicles are also expensive to produce. Until costs come down, they'll be an option for wealthy folks looking for a more environmentally friendly car, but they won't be a cost-effective alternative to gas-powered vehicles. In fact, it sounds like they'll be significantly more expensive than battery-powered vehicles, which already entail a premium over comparable gas vehicles.

We'll find out more when Toyota shows its first fuel cell car.


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