If everything goes according to plan, Toyota will make hydrogen fuel cell vehicles available to private buyers within six years.
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Toyota’s executive vice president of product planning and advanced technology, Takeshi Uchiyamada, said that fuel cell vehicles could be less expensive than hybrid and electric vehicles in selected markets that have the appropriate refuelling infrastructure.

Speaking at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Mr Uchiyamada would not speculate on the type of vehicle that may enter the market by the scheduled 2015 entry date, but said it would need to be affordable and have a great fuel range.

The announcement is backed up by Toyota’s recent commitment to introduce more than 100 fuel cell vehicles into its demonstrator fleet test program in California and New York.

Previous testing with the Highlander FCHV (fuel cell hybrid vehicle) achieved an estimated range of 693km on a single full tank of compressed hydrogen gas and an average fuel economy equivalent to 3.4 litres/100km.

Toyota is also boosting its global research and development resources, with a new electric division of around 50 engineers working on next-generation battery technologies.

Toyota’s managing officer in charge of developing batteries, Koei Saga, said battery technology needed to improve significantly heading into the future.

“We believe a key to the electrical mobile technology lies in innovation of battery technology.“Lithium-ion batteries will already be a step forward, but we need batteries that offer far superior performance,” he said.

The current version of the Prius uses nickel-metal-hydride batteries but Toyota has confirmed the Prius PHV (plug-in hybrid vehicle – due for release in 2012) will be powered by the more energy efficient lithium-ion units.