Monday, March 30, 2015
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

After hybrid success, Toyota gambles on fuel cell

By
From page B12 | July 27, 2014 |

TOKYO — Rocket science long dismissed as too impractical and expensive for everyday cars is getting a push into the mainstream by Toyota, the world’s top-selling automaker.

Buoyed by its success with electric-gasoline hybrid vehicles, Toyota is betting that drivers will embrace hydrogen fuel cells, an even cleaner technology that runs on the energy created by an electrochemical reaction when oxygen in the air combines with hydrogen stored as fuel.

Unlike internal combustion engines which power most vehicles on roads today, a pure hydrogen fuel cell emits no exhaust, only some heat and a trickle of pure water. Fuel cells also boast greater efficiency than the internal combustion process, which expends about two-thirds of the energy in gasoline as heat.

Toyota’s fuel cell car will go on sale before April next year. Despite advantages that are seemingly compelling, the technology has struggled to move beyond its prototypes after several decades of research and development by industry and backing from governments.

For the auto industry in particular, there have been significant hurdles to commercialization including the prohibitive expense of such vehicles. On top of that, fueling stations are almost nonexistent. Doubters also quibble about the green credentials of fuel cells because hydrogen is produced from fossil fuels.

But Satoshi Ogiso, the engineer leading the Toyota project, is confident there’s a market that will grow in significance over time.

Part of Ogiso’s optimism stems from his background. He worked for 20 years on Toyota’s Prius hybrid.

The Prius, which has an electric motor in addition to a regular gasoline engine, was met with extreme skepticism at the start. But it went on to win over the public as a stylish way to limit the environmental damage of motoring. Worldwide sales of Toyota’s hybrids have topped 6 million vehicles since their debut in 1997.

“The environment has become an ever more pressing problem than in 1997,” Ogiso said in an interview at the automaker’s Tokyo office.

“Hydrogen marks an even bigger step than a hybrid. It is our proposal for a totally new kind of car. If you want to experience this new world, if you want to go green, this is it.”

Toyota, which began working on fuel cells in 1992 but won’t disclose how much it has invested, is not the first automaker to produce such a vehicle. Forklifts powered by fuel cells are becoming more common in factories and fuel cell buses have been trialed in some cities. General Motors Co. has also been working on the technology and Honda Motor Co. already sells the FCX Clarity fuel cell sedan in limited numbers and is planning a new fuel cell car, with a more powerful fuel cell stack, next year.

But Toyota’s decision as the world’s top-selling automaker to start commercial production of a fuel cell car is an important boost to the technology’s prospects for wider adoption. Its release will also win the automaker plaudits for corporate responsibility.

“It works to symbolically enhance the automaker’s ecological image,” said Yoshihiro Okumura, auto analyst at Chiba-gin Asset Management.

Toyota’s still-to-be-officially-named vehicle goes on sale in Japan sometime before April 2015, and within a half year after that in the U.S. and Europe.

The four-seater sedan, while sporting an aggressive grille and fluid body curves, looks pretty much like a regular car. Those who have test driven fuel cell vehicles say they have a powerful torque, with quick acceleration, akin to the thrill of driving a sports car. Yet they are quiet like electric cars, purring on the roads with no engine roar.

Ogiso, like many other experts, believes that reliance on gasoline is not sustainable in the long-run particularly with rapid growth in vehicle ownership in developing nations, which could translate into hundreds of millions of additional cars on the roads globally.

Working on the Prius and the fuel cell, he said, was a similar process: Painstakingly tackling the challenge of packaging all the special parts needed for a new type of car.

Like the initial years of the Prius, subsidies and tax breaks are expected to substantially lower the fuel cell price tag in Japan.

Ogiso said at the beginning it cost more than 100 million ($1 million) to build just a test car.

The planned commercial model will sell for about 7 million yen ($70,000). Initially, Toyota had said the car might cost as much as 10 million yen ($100,000). Overseas prices have not yet been announced.

Factoring in subsidies and tax breaks, buyers might be able to get the fuel cell for about 5 million yen ($50,000), said Okumura, the Chiba-gin analyst.

That is still more than double the Prius, which with no frills sells for a little above 2 million yen ($20,000). It no longer gets green subsidies but still is eligible for a 100,000 yen ($1,000) tax break in Japan. Plug-in versions, which sell for nearly 3 million yen ($30,000), get bigger discounts, totaling as much as 420,000 yen ($4,200).

Toyota has not given sales projections but says interest in the fuel cell has been strong.

Apart from cost, the other big drawback is lack of hydrogen fueling stations. Only about 30 of them exist throughout Japan so far, although the government is leading a push to get more built in coming months.

Lack of charging stations is also a weakness for electric cars but there are fewer obstacles to establishing and supplying that infrastructure because electricity networks are already in place.

That is one of the reasons why automakers such as Nissan Motor Co. and Tesla Motors are pushing electric vehicles as the most practical way to be a green driver.

“We are a little bit skeptical,” Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn said of fuel cells. “Who’s going to build the infrastructure?”

Selling 500 or 1,000 fuel cell vehicles a year might be easy, but getting sales to mass levels, such as 500,000 vehicles or more a year, would be difficult, he said.

Toyota, however, counters that electric cars tend to have limited cruise ranges, relegating them to a niche. Hydrogen fueling takes only three minutes versus several hours to charge an electric vehicle.

The planned fuel cell runs about 700 kilometers (430 miles) on a single hydrogen fueling.

Toru Hatano, auto analyst at IHS Automotive in Tokyo overseeing powertrains, forecasts that only several thousand fuel cell cars will sell per year globally.

“There really isn’t anything good that happens for the consumer by getting a fuel cell,” he said, compared with a hybrid’s savings on gas consumption.

Beyond that, Hatano said hydrogen is now mostly produced from fossil fuels.

“You are using energy to create hydrogen, and then using more energy to pressurize it for storage, and so overall you aren’t saving on energy at all.”

But scientists are working on cleaner ways to make hydrogen, and in theory hydrogen is cheap, plentiful and possibly the next-generation fuel for motorists.

___

On YouTube: http://youtu.be/98CidXDLuH8

 

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

Solano News

Easter activities, events abundant

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Christians begin Holy Week with Palm Sunday celebrations

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A1, 1 Comment | Gallery

2 drivers killed in same area, an hour apart

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A1, 5 Comments

 
My guide to dining out

By Tony Wade | From Page: A2, 4 Comments

Local governments post week’s meeting times

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

 
Top young spellers to compete for Solano title

By Glen Faison | From Page: A3

Police investigate shooting off North Texas Street

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A3, 7 Comments | Gallery

 
Vallejo police seek leads in weekend homicide

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A3

Biz Buzz: Re/Max hires new Realtor

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A10

 
Biz Buzz: PAL receives donation from glass company

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A10 | Gallery

 
Biz Buzz: Wiseman officer names Perez to key post

By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A10

.

US / World

 
Analysis finds unequal pay for women on California Capitol

By The Associated Press | From Page: A3

Songwriter injured in California crash; motorcyclist killed

By The Associated Press | From Page: A3

 
Taylor Swift wins artist of the year at iHeartRadio Awards

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

 
Police: 2 bodies found in NYC building explosion rubble

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Waving fronds around the world, Christians mark Palm Sunday

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Air Canada plane makes hard landing short of Halifax runway

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

Small tsunami generated in Pacific after earthquake

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

 
.

Living

Community Calendar: March 30, 2015

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

 
Today in History: March 30, 2015

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

Horoscopes: March 30, 2015

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B6

 
Parenting: If a father is abusive, a mother must act

By The Washington Post | From Page: B8

 
Horoscopes: March 31, 2015

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B8

.

Entertainment

TVGrid March 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A10

 
TVGrid March 31

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A11

Michelle Obama declares ‘Black Girls Rock!’

By The Associated Press | From Page: A11, 3 Comments

 
.

Sports

Spartans Final Four-bound after 76-70 OT win over Louisville

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Duke back in Final Four after 66-52 win over Gonzaga

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Hamlin wins for 25th time, and fifth time at Martinsville

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Jimmy Walker wins hometown Texas Open

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Oakland OF Josh Reddick won’t be ready for start of season

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

California Chrome heads to Britain, to race at Royal Ascot

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Vettel wins Malaysian GP to end Mercedes streak

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Joe Gibbs on son: most courageous person I’ve been around

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Chodounsky defends slalom title at US Alpine Championships

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

South Carolina earns 1st Final Four berth, beats FSU 80-74

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Turner says Saturday regional finals highest-rated in decade

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Apology for wrong anthem for El Salvador before game in US

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Montoya holds off Power to give Penske 1-2 sweep at St. Pete

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Stanford’s Randle chases school scoring record, title at NIT

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Hamlin wins for 25th time, and fifth time at Martinsville

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Cain goes 4 innings in Giants win over LA

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
Graveman pitches into 7th inning as A’s beat Brewers 7-0

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

.

Business

.

Obituaries

Robert Roberts

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Janice Jewel Thompson

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

.

Comics

Peanuts March 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Zits March 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Blondie March 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Pickles March 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Get Fuzzy March 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Sally Forth March 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

For Better or Worse March 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Baldo March 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Garfield March 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Dilbert March 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Baby Blues March 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Frank and Ernest March 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

B.C. March 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Wizard of Id March 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Beetle Bailey March 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Rose is Rose March 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Sudoku March 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Bridge March 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Word Sleuth March 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Crossword March 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Cryptoquote March 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
B.C. March 31

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Blondie March 31

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Peanuts March 31

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Baldo March 31

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Rose is Rose March 31

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Beetle Bailey March 31

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
For Better or Worse March 31

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Dilbert March 31

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Garfield March 31

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Pickles March 31

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Zits March 31

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Sally Forth March 31

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Get Fuzzy March 31

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Wizard of Id March 31

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Baby Blues March 31

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Frank and Ernest March 31

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Word Sleuth March 31

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B8

Bridge March 31

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B8

 
Sudoku March 31

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B8

Cryptoquote March 31

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B8

 
Crossword March 31

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B8