Not just hot air
THE company that led Australia into the hybrid era is preparing a new push with hydrogen power.
Toyota says it will be the first carmaker to sell a hydrogenpowered car in Australia, using an onboard fuel cell to generate electricity, as early as 2016.
It claims the newcomer will be a bigger breakthrough than the first Prius, although its plans depend on developing a workable network of refuelling stations that can supply the hydrogen for the vehicle.
Toyota is well advanced with its fuel cell development work.
I have driven an impressive Kluger in California that is refuelled from the world’s first dedicated high-pressure hydrogen refuelling station.
It sounds and responds like an electric car, and Toyota says it will shrink the giant hydrogen tanks and prototype fuel cell stack by the time its first production car is ready.
‘‘ We’re aiming for a production fuel cell car in the US in 2015. It’s a car, not an SUV,’’ says Toyota Australia product planning boss Greg Gardner. ‘‘ It will be an all-new model. Something like the Prius, at least initially.’’
Toyota has shown several hydrogen concept cars including a four-door sedan that will have the space to package the new-era powerplant, which is similar to the one in the landmark Honda Clarity. The Clarity began as a concept car and is now leased in small numbers in Japan and the US, but is not regarded as a genuine production model.
Toyota says its car will be sold, not leased, and will be a genuine production car and not a science experiment.
Even so, Gardner says it will take time to get established.
‘‘ It will be produced in the tens of thousands by 2020. It won’t be like the Prius, which will hit one million sales next year,’’ he says. He promises a car that satisfies the needs of regular consumers, not just eco-warriors, with the practicality of a Camry.
‘‘ The good thing about hydrogen is that you only have to find space for the cell and tanks. It’s about packaging,’’ Gardner says.
‘‘ It can be applied to any vehicle. So in the future you could have a gasoline car, an electric hybrid and hydrogen drive in the same vehicle.’’
But he admits there is an elephant in the room— there is no sign of a workable hydrogen fuel network any time soon in Australia.
‘‘ Refuelling is the biggest challenge,’’ he says.
‘‘ But this is the future we’re talking about. If we build it, they will come.
‘‘ When we introduce it, we’ll have to work collaboratively with the liquid energy distribution companies and governments to make it work. It’s a massive task.’’
Modern take: Toyota wants future cars to be clean and unconventional