Never Minding Tesla’s Delayed Semi, Toyota Calls Its FCV Big Rig ‘The Future’

While the world awaits Tesla’s delayed Semi due this fall, the Japanese company that brought you the Prius, Mirai FCV, and other nifty electrified vehicles is drumming up interest in an electric semi of its own.

This one however happens to be a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, and starting Oct. 23 Toyota’s “Project Portal” will begin a 200-mile test route and feasibility study in the Port of Los Angeles.

“If you see a big-rig driving around the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach that seems oddly quiet and quick, do not be alarmed!,” said Toyota playfully. “It’s just the future.”

For now a test project, the vehicle is being used as a drayage hauler, or a shorter-distance interim step in freight moving.

Powered by a pair of Mirai fuel cell stacks, this 80,000 gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) truck really hauls too, and scoots up to speed quicker than conventional diesel trucks, thanks to 670 horses, 1,325 pounds-feet of torque, while avoiding all that nasty soot and NOx, emiting nothing but water vapor.

It even does have a lithium-ion battery, a modest 12-kWh one, in what is essentially a hydrogen hybrid setup relying primarily on the fuel cell stacks with battery as an energy buffer.

First introduced in April, the special truck will begin testing on routes, moving goods from the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach terminals to surrounding rail yards and warehouses for distribution.

Tesla Semi.

Toyota is being quite methodical about the whole endeavor, too.

“These localized, frequent route patterns are designed to test the demanding drayage duty-cycle capabilities of the fuel cell system while capturing real world performance data. As the study progresses, longer haul routes will be introduced.”

Already under the class-8 proof of concept truck’s belt are over 4,000 development miles. And, at this stage it is still quite early to be predicting what technology has the ultimate long-term “future” potential, but don’t count anything out.

Among many open questions just as much for Tesla however is its Semi’s prospect of long-haul capability. Reports have said it too would be a short-route driver, and then Tesla CEO Elon Musk has implied via Twitter it will be able to go on long trips too.

Presently diesel tractor trailers with room for a whole lot of “energy storage” – those barrels below the cab that hold upwards of 100 gallons of diesel fuel – have been the technology of choice for interstate and coast-to-coast freight hauling.

A question Tesla aims to answer is how a battery electric semi will overcome the energy storage and cost advantage diesel fuel possesses. A Model S sedan requires a battery weighing upwards of 1,200 pounds, and to date electric trucks and buses have been seen as ideal for routes where fast charging lets them get back on the road with minimal down time. The challenge of going cross country is another matter.

By using gaseous hydrogen, Toyota is advancing its agenda that advocates fast fill times, and relatively greater energy storage. Assuming the 200-mile truck works out, Toyota could easily add hydrogen tanks which are more compact and lighter weight than a li-ion battery.

Nikola One FCV.

Both battery electric and hydrogen technologies face their challenges, however. Another company, Nikola Motors, has also been promoting its FCV big rig with plans for infrastructure on the way. General Motors likewise just announced it will showcase a smaller FCV truck platform which has potential for more.

At this stage, many irons are in the fire, and whether it is a question of either/or or both is also up in the air.

For its part, Toyota is calling its FCV “the future.”

“Toyota has led the way in expanding the understanding and adoption of fuel cell technology,” said TMNA Executive Vice President Bob Carter. “From the introduction of the Mirai passenger vehicle to the creation of the heavy-duty fuel cell system in Project Portal, Toyota continues to demonstrate the versatility and scalability of the zero-emission fuel cell powertrain.”

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