Bloomberg reported today that Toyota plans to offer a $50,000 hydrogen-powered vehicle by 2015. The company said it has cut the cost of making a hydrogen fuel cell car by 90 percent in the past five years. “Our target is, we don’t lose money with introduction of the vehicle,” said Yoshihiko Masuda, Toyota’s managing director for advanced autos. Masuda acknowledged that the market would be small. The company did not provide details about the vehicle.
The hydrogen announcement from Toyota, which has had a nearly singular focus on hybrids, is the latest move in a high-stakes chess game regarding green auto technology. In the past year or two, public and media support has shifted to electric cars and plug-in hybrids—which Toyota has been slow to adopt. General Motors, Nissan and others are attempting the steal the green car halo from the Toyota Prius by introducing new plug-in models that use little or no gasoline.
Toyota said it has cut hydrogen fuel cell costs by reducing platinum use to about one-third the previous level and finding cheaper ways to produce the thin film used in the fuel cells and the carbon-fiber hydrogen fuel tanks.
Some experts point to range and efficiency advantages that fuel cell cars have over gasoline or battery-powered vehicles. Nonetheless, high costs and lack of hydrogen refueling infrastructure remain major obstacles to affordable and practical fuel cell cars.
The battle for dominance regarding whiz-bang energy-efficient auto technology is getting more complicated everyday. At this point—at least while gasoline is still relatively cheap—it’s less about selling a lot of cars or profitability, and more about public perception.
The battleground seems to be widening to include hydrogen fuel cells—a technology which has been dismissed in the past few years. The list of automakers with apparently serious intentions to sell a fuel-cell vehicle by 2015 includes Toyota, General Motors, Honda, Daimler, and Hyundai.