Toyota plans to launch a hydrogen fuel cell passenger car by 2015 with production likely to increase into the tens of thousands in the next decade.
Toyota, which restarted its motorsport involvement in this week's 24 Le Mans endurance race with a pair of hybrid race cars, is determined to bring fuel cell passenger cars to the masses. Toyota Motor Company vice chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada has confirmed the next decade will see fuel cell vehicles being mass produced at Toyota’s factories just like regular cars.
Toyota will also oversee the production of fuel cell buses (via Hino) and even push for hydrogen-powered forklift trucks.
Hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles are one of Toyota's three-pillar approaches to alternative fuels, joining battery-powered electric vehicles and hybrids. Fuel cell vehicles allow for significantly more range than electric vehicles and produce only water as a by-product.
The Toyota FCV-R concept is Toyota's showcase for its fuel cell technology. The mid-sized family sedan provides around 700km per refill with its two hydrogen tanks stored beneath the floor of the vehicle.
As with other manufacturers of fuel cell vehicles, the biggest challenge remains infrastructure. Toyota Australia's corporate manager of product planning, Greg Gardner, told CarAdvice that "a smooth shift to a hydrogen-based society will be a significant undertaking".
"Reaching a consensus on what method should be used to make hydrogen, how to deliver it and how to implement a fuelling infrastructure depends on the combined efforts of all sectors of society, including governments."
Places like the US and parts of Europe have already begun to build supporting infrastructure for hydrogen delivery but Australia is lagging behind.
"This will be a major challenge in Australia... But, nevertheless, we have expressed our interest in fuel cell cars," Gardner said.
Although 2015 will see the launch of Toyota's first mass-produced fuel cell vehicle, its availability for the Australian market remains to be seen. Toyota Australia is likely to conduct local testing prior to the vehicle's release, but the lack of supporting infrastructure may mean extremely limited availability for the foreseeable future.
Given numerous manufacturers are committed to bringing hydrogen-powered vehicles to market, should Australia begin to invest in hydrogen infrastructure?