Toyota is doubling down on its investments in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. It plans to design lower-cost, mass-market passenger cars, as well as SUVs and implement the technology into buses and trucks. This is needed in order to build economies of scale.
The carmaker plans to popularize the technology by making hydrogen fuel cell vehicles cheaper. The first step will be cranking up improvements for the next generation of its Mirai FCV, expected in the early 2020s. Toyota hopes that it can prove wrong its rival automakers and industry experts who mostly believe such plans are commercially unviable.
“We’re going to shift from limited production to mass production, reduce the amount of expensive materials like platinum used in FCV components, and make the system more compact and powerful,” Yoshikazu Tanaka, chief engineer of the Mirai, said in an interview with Reuters.
Other hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, such as SUVs, pick-up trucks, and commercial trucks are planned to be revealed around 2025. “We’re going to use as many parts from existing passenger cars and other models as possible in fuel cell trucks,” said Ikuo Ota, manager of new business planning for fuel cell projects at Toyota. “Otherwise, we won’t see the benefits of mass production.”
For now, the company’s plants produce only 6.5 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and 13,400 other ones per day. The cars are assembled by the hands of 13 technicians, so it has a very limited production. Each fuel cell stacks costs around $11,000, because of the use of platinum, titanium and carbon fiber, which are not cheap at all. The company will try to reduce the cost to about $8,000 per stack.
“It will be difficult for Toyota to lower FCV production costs if it only produces the Mirai,” according to an anonymous source.
“By using the FCV system in larger models, it is looking to lower the costs by mass-producing and using common parts across vehicle classes.”
Toyota engineers are working on reducing the use of expensive materials, by improving the platinum catalyst, which facilitates the reaction between hydrogen and oxygen that produces electricity.
“We’ve been able to decrease the platinum loading by 10 percent to 20 percent and deliver the same performance,” said Eri Ichikawa, a fuel cell engineer at Cataler Corp, a Toyota subsidiary that specializes in catalytic converters.