While much of the automotive industry is rushing, pedal to the metal, full speed ahead with electric vehicle (EV) development, Japanese automotive icon Toyota has decided to tread a different path in their quest towards a future of alternative fuel vehicles.
They unveiled the Mirai, Japanese for “future,” at the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show, the world's first mass-produced fuel cell vehicle (FCV) to be sold commercially. However, the Mirai’s sales numbers have not shown the vehicle to be the “future” that Toyota was hoping for.
It’s been hard for hydrogen FCVs to catch on when setting up fueling stations for them has been so difficult (even in California, which has invested A LOT of money in the fledgling technology), even more so than with EV charging networks, and those have had many issues.
However, Toyota Still Has Hope for Hydrogen
In an interview at the Tokyo motor show, Hiroki Nakajima, Toyota’s Chief Technology Officer, indicated that the company plans to pivot in its approach to the future of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in the wake of the Mirai not being “successful.”
Instead of giving up on the technology, Nakajima shared that the company intends to repurpose it for commercial vehicle use, “For mid-size trucks, it's easy to deliver a refueling network, as it's mainly A to B. Huge numbers of trucks go from A to B so that you can operate stations with more stability. Commercial vehicles are the most important area to try to proceed on with hydrogen.”
However, this shift towards a more commercial focus doesn’t mean that Toyota will turn away from developing hydrogen passenger cars entirely. He stressed that the company was looking for ways to streamline and “downsize components” to make the technology viable for various cars.
Smaller Is Better For Batteries
Indeed, the Japanese automaker seems to be looking towards a future where next-gen battery packs, such as the one that will power their recently announced Land Cruiser Se (which is rumored to have over 600 miles of driving range while taking up way less space due to a downsized fuel cell stack), utilize a “design language” that’s encapsulated by “downsizing.”
From a technological perspective, this is considered a potential “game-changer” because it means that battery electric vehicles could be produced cheaper due to smaller batteries weighing less while taking up less space, hence the vastly improved driving range of the above-mentioned Land Cruiser Se.
However, Nakajima also (if not unsurprisingly) stated that these new batteries would be “very expensive,” meaning they would likely only be seen in “high-performance” vehicles at first.
Nakajima stressed that his company wants to foster a “fun-to-drive image” for all their new vehicles “as much as possible.” Toyota even intends to offer an “imitation” manual transmission for their future “fun” EVs.
Regardless of what someone might think about Toyota’s ideas of a “fun image,” there’s no denying that if their purposed next-gen “downsized” batteries pan out – it will be a breakthrough for alternative fuel vehicles.