Toyota ramps up efforts to explore potential of hydrogen cars

One of the Toyota Sora buses photographed in Japan on November 5, 2021. Toyota began developing fuel cell vehicles back in 1992.

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Toyota Motor Europe, CaetanoBus and Air Liquide have signed an agreement to develop hydrogen-powered transportation options as the race to develop low- and zero-emission vehicles heats up.

In a statement on Tuesday, Toyota said the deal will focus on what it called “closer collaboration to develop capabilities for hydrogen mobility projects in several European countries.” CaetanoBus is based in Portugal and is part of Toyota Caetano Portugal and Mitsui & Co.

The firms intend to focus on a number of areas related to hydrogen, including infrastructure related to distribution and refueling; low carbon and renewable hydrogen production; and the use of hydrogen in various types of vehicles.

Toyota said the initial focus will be on “buses, light commercial vehicles and automobiles with a further goal of accelerating the heavy truck segment.”

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Toyota began working on fuel cell vehicles, where hydrogen from a tank is mixed with oxygen to generate electricity, back in 1992. In 2014, it launched the Mirai, a hydrogen fuel cell sedan. The business says its fuel cell vehicles emit “nothing but water from the tailpipe.”

Along with the Mirai, Toyota had a hand in the development of larger hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. These include a bus called Sora and prototype heavy vehicles. In addition to fuel cells, Toyota is considering using hydrogen in internal combustion engines.

While the Japanese auto giant is looking to push ahead with plans for hydrogen-powered cars – firms like Hyundai and BMW are also considering hydrogen – other influential voices in the auto sector aren’t so sure.

In June 2020, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted “Fuel cells = stupid sales”, adding in July of that year: “Hydrogen fool sells no use.”

In February 2021, Herbert Diess, CEO of the German Volkswagen Group, also spoke out on the matter. “Time for politicians to embrace science,” he tweeted.

“Green hydrogen is essential for steel production, chemicals, aerospace… and it should not be in cars. Too expensive, inefficient, slow and difficult to deploy and transport. In the end: no hydrogen cars are foreseen.”

While Diess and Musk appear to be cautious when it comes to the prospects for using hydrogen in cars, their focus on battery-electric vehicles puts them in direct competition with other firms like GM and Ford.

The latter’s CEO Jim Farley recently said his business plans to “challenge Tesla and everyone else to become the world’s leading electric vehicle maker.”

The drive to find zero-emission, low-emission alternatives to diesel and gasoline comes at a time when major countries are developing plans to reduce the environmental impact of road transport.

In Europe, for example, the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, has proposed a 100% reduction in CO2 emissions from cars and vans by 2035.

On Tuesday, Ford Europe, Volvo Cars and a number of other major companies signed a joint letter asking EU governments and the European Parliament to give the green light to the Commission’s proposal.

The letter calls on EU government representatives and MEPs to “implement a phase-out of sales of new passenger cars and vans with internal combustion engines (including hybrids) across the EU no later than 2035.”

“This should be legislated by setting a fleet-wide CO2 emission target of 0 grams CO2/km by 2035 for vehicle manufacturers,” the letter says.

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