The race towards fuel cells is on, as the biggest player on the hybrid front has finally put its mind on hydrogen, considering it as the main alternative to gasoline for powering cars.
Toyota demonstrated the technology with drives of a small, prototype sedan in Japan this week. The similarly powered series model will come up with a different exterior though and officially debut at next month’s Tokyo Motor Show. The model should come to the U.S., Japan and Europe as early as next year as a 2015 model.
“Earlier would have been better, but it’s taken a long time to get to this point,” said Satoshi Ogiso, the Toyota engineer managing the fuel cell development and electric-drive vehicle programs. “We’ve already started work on the next-generation vehicle. We can’t wait.”
“I see fuel cells as a technology for the decade of the 2020s, with a small but growing ramp-up in the first half of the decade, not unlike what we are seeing now with EVs,” said Alan Baum, an independent auto analyst at Baum & Associates.
Toyota is aiming to establish itself as the leader in this new technology, much as it did with hybrids, but this time it has lots of company. Honda, Hyundai, Daimler and General Motors have also invested billions of dollars into fuel cell research since the 1990s. There area also detractors, like Tesla Motors Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk,which thinks the technology is too complex, too costly and not clean enough, since most hydrogen is generated from natural gas.