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Toyota is betting big on the hydrogen for the long term. Its first fuel cell vehicles (like the Toyota FCHV pictured here at the 2008 New York Auto Show) may debut in 2015. Meanwhile it is scorning electric plug-in offerings.

Toyota plans on continuing to use less efficient nickel-metal batteries in its future Prius vehicles. It believes lithium-based batteries are too expensive for the efficiency gains they offer.
From battery chemistry, to electric vehicle adoption, Toyota isn't going with the flow

If you used industry-wide levels of interest in lithium-ion battery technology and electric vehicles as a barometer, both of these fields are at record highs.  In the U.S., the former "Big Three" -- GM, Chrysler, and Ford -- all have electric vehicles planned for release, with the GM's 2011 Chevy Volt being perhaps the biggest attraction.  In Germany, Daimler and child company Mercedes-Benz have both concepts and planned market EVs.  And in Japan, Nissan is gearing up to debut the electric-only 2011 Leaf EV.  All of these companies' electric efforts are driven by lithium-ion batteries, and these batteries are going in their hybrids as well.

The world's most successful vendor of electric vehicle technology, albeit in the form of mild hybrids, Toyota is going against the current on both of these trends, though.  In a new Bloomberg report aired concurrent with the Frankfurt Auto Show, it is revealed that Toyota extensively tested lithium-ion batteries as a potential replacement for the nickel-metal hydride batteries in its Prius and other mild hybrids.

What it found was that while the batteries were extremely efficient and didn't raise serious reliability or safety concerns, they were overly expensive for the gains they provided.  For that reason, Toyota reportedly concluded that the market wasn't ready for lithium and has decided to primarily continue with its nickel-based batteries for most of its hybrid cars.

Toyota also concluded that electric vehicles were too expensive to succeed in the current market.  Toyota Executive Vice President Takeshi Uchiyamada stated at a Frankfurt Auto Show press conference, "Electric vehicles of today are less costly than in 1990s, but if you compare them with the other vehicles out there they are still too expensive.  Unless there is a very big breakthrough in battery costs I don't think electric vehicles can take a large market share."

Toyota indicated that it will likely stay out of the electric vehicle market for close to a decade, the time it believes it will take for EVs to become profitable and affordable enough for the masses.

So is Toyota right?  It's hard to say.  Toyota's demonstration of business acumen over the last several years is hard to argue, given its ability to produce the first profitable mass-production hybrid, the Prius, which leads worldwide hybrid sales to date.  Furthermore, there are a handful of competitors, such as Germany's Audi, whose management are split on the viability of electric vehicles (Audi's North American president recently called buyers of the Chevy Volt EV "idiots"). 

On the other hand, the vast majority of the industry is shifting towards all electrics, and if Toyota counts on its competitors to lower production costs, it may find itself in a foreign hole when it finally decides to enter the market.  While some of the German automakers are pushing for clean diesel as a supplement or alternative to hybrids, Toyota is pushing hydrogen as a long term solution, a technology that faces significant production, transport, and storage obstacles -- all of which raise the price.  Toyota may release a fuel cell (hydrogen) car by 2015, according to recent reports. 

So for now Toyota is opting for one of the least expensive and most proven solutions (mild hybrids), while its mid-to-long term efforts focus on what is currently the most expensive and least proven solution of them all -- hydrogen.

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I hope they do...
By Masospaghetti on 9/16/2009 8:41:43 AM , Rating: 2
I hope Toyota can release a hydrogen vehicle by 2015 and get the ball rolling...especially since GM, Honda, and BMW all already have a lot of development done with hydrogen tech and could easily enter the market after infrastructure is in place.

GM and Honda in particular hold a lot of promise in this area, with "Project Driveway" with the fuel-cell Equinoxes and Honda's FCX Clarity leases.

RE: I hope they do...
By FITCamaro on 9/16/2009 9:02:06 AM , Rating: 2
GM has been saying hydrogen for the past 15 years. Now it only gets attention because Toyota is agreeing?

RE: I hope they do...
By Bateluer on 9/16/2009 9:08:33 AM , Rating: 5
All the automakers have been saying hydrogen cars will be available within the next 10 years. Trouble is, they've been saying it for the past 30 years.

RE: I hope they do...
By The0ne on 9/17/2009 1:54:56 PM , Rating: 2
Yea, truly a shame. But more hype means more focus and R&D! :)

RE: I hope they do...
By Dorkyman on 9/18/2009 12:20:13 PM , Rating: 2
I think I see what they're doing here. I believe Toyota has the best engineering in the industry as well as the best management. They are not chasing after bogus dreams but are focused on remaining competitive (read: profitable) for the indefinite future. Hybrids, such as their current offerings, give the most bang for the buck, and they will continue in that direction. At the same time, they don't want to fall out of favor with touchy-feely "futures" gurus and the current Washington administration, so they are tossing about the magic word "hydrogen" even though that is an extremely long shot. They've covered their behinds without taking a huge risk. Pretty smart.

RE: I hope they do...
By Masospaghetti on 9/16/2009 3:14:14 PM , Rating: 2
I recognize that GM has made more progress with hydrogen than anyone else but they don't seem to have enough momentum alone to bring a vehicle to market with the supporting infrastructure - having a second large player, especially the media-darling Toyota, will help tremendously in getting the ball rolling.

RE: I hope they do...
By tapa on 9/18/2009 9:40:59 AM , Rating: 2
I recognize that not. Honda has actually made a hydrogen car (the Clarity) that can be used by ordinary people without 2 engineers sitting behind you and monitoring the telemetry. Honda's also ahead with the fuel cell technology itself. They've produced a powerful compact design that works reliably. That's something unheard of in the fuel cell vehicle world. Now the race is to bring down costs. And I don't mean costs of hydrogen - that is already less than gasoline equivalent.

RE: I hope they do...
By Spivonious on 9/16/2009 9:40:18 AM , Rating: 5
They can release all the hydrogen vehicles they want to.

Until a system of hydrogen refueling stations exists, hydrogen cars will go nowhere (pun intended).

RE: I hope they do...
By superPC on 9/16/2009 9:43:49 AM , Rating: 2
that's exactly right. hydrogen cars and hydrogen support system (pumping station etc.) is kind of a chicken and egg thing. one can't exist without the other yet it has to start somewhere.

RE: I hope they do...
By Chudilo on 9/16/2009 10:07:36 AM , Rating: 2
I will personally pay a 15k dollar premium, and will drive across the city (to GAS it up with hydrogen) to push the adoption of this technology forward. If, and only IF, a decent vehicle, that has decent handling and reasonable acceleration was available. Prius-type vehicle is an embarrassment to the auto-industry.

RE: I hope they do...
By Spuke on 9/16/2009 1:05:17 PM , Rating: 4
I will personally pay a 15k dollar premium, and will drive across the city (to GAS it up with hydrogen) to push the adoption of this technology forward.
Here you go. And it's only $600 a month for a 3 year lease. That doesn't include taxes and registration though. Unfortunately, I am not aware of any hydrogen vehicles that you can actually buy but this will help push the tech along. Just rent a car for long trips.

RE: I hope they do...
By invidious on 9/16/2009 5:14:18 PM , Rating: 2
I was told by Honda that retail stations in California are selling H2 for $5/kg
60 gallons per kg and $5/kg. They say mpg is roughly equivilant to mpkg. So with gas currently at $2.70 a gallon, this has fuel costs roughly equivilant to a 33 mpg car.

It costs $21,000 to lease it for 3 years. They don't even mention any performance benchmarks on the website so it's probably safe to assume it is weak.

This technology is clearly no where near ready for the market, but it is interesting that it is even available.

RE: I hope they do...
By EJ257 on 9/16/09, Rating: -1
RE: I hope they do...
By Entropy42 on 9/16/2009 10:32:11 AM , Rating: 5
Seriously? Please tell me this was sarcasm.

RE: I hope they do...
By Pneumothorax on 9/16/2009 12:36:34 PM , Rating: 3
Yeah, it just takes a little energy to break the O-H bonds lol.

RE: I hope they do...
By ClownPuncher on 9/16/09, Rating: 0
RE: I hope they do...
By ArcliteHawaii on 9/16/2009 8:30:20 PM , Rating: 2
Seriously, please tell me how this would not work. Electrolysis units are small. The unit could run while plugged in at night, refilling the fuel cell with hydrogen. Excess heat could be bled off using a small radiator. Currently the FCX, a first gen fuel cell vehicle, has a range of almost 300 miles per tank, which is better than any battery only vehicle. You could still refuel the cell directly with hydrogen at a filling station if you needed to drive further than that in a day.

RE: I hope they do...
By piroroadkill on 9/17/2009 6:26:24 AM , Rating: 2
If you planned to plug in your car at night, you would be absolutely retarded to use that energy to create hydrogen from water, when the efficiency is absolutely terrible in comparison to simply.. charging a battery

RE: I hope they do...
By ArcliteHawaii on 9/17/2009 8:46:46 PM , Rating: 2
You're right, it's not as energy efficient. Electrolysis has an efficiency of 50-70% according to Wikipedia. There's a lot of waste heat.

However, there are benefits to fuel cells that extend beyond that though. You're trading charging efficiency for range and weight. Fuel cells are relatively light compared to large battery packs. And 300 miles is the range of first gen fuel cell vehicles. I expect that range to increase further as fuel cells improve. Batteries can't touch that. And you still have the option of refueling a fuel cell in a few minutes, which you do not have with a battery pack.

RE: I hope they do...
By mattclary on 9/16/2009 4:16:53 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, your idea isn't THAT bad. But instead, you add water at home and plug it into a wall socket at night.

RE: I hope they do...
By JediJeb on 9/17/2009 3:24:29 PM , Rating: 2
There is work being done on using catalyst to do the water to hydrogen conversion but that tech will be some time off. Lithium, Sodium, Calcium and some other metals release H2 from water when they are mixed but then you need to get rid of the metal oxides that are left behind. Also these reactions produce a lot of heat. If a catalyst can be found that is not used up in a chemical reaction like the above metals then you might have a winner. Or a catalyst that greatly reduces the amount of electricity needed so that a small solar panel would provide enough hydrogen for powering a vehicle, would also be great.

RE: I hope they do...
By mars2k on 9/16/2009 10:16:18 AM , Rating: 2
Meanwhile Honda has the Hydrogen fueled Clarity on the roads in California. GM has a Hydrogen test program in New York. The trouble is not whether Hydrogen fuel cells work its how to we get the Hyudrogen infrastructure up in a meaningfull way.

RE: I hope they do...
By ArcliteHawaii on 9/16/2009 8:35:56 PM , Rating: 2
I'm sure it will be an organic, slow process. First, you start with fleet vehicles that refuel centrally like postal trucks and buses. That helps you build your infrastructure. After building that up and working out the kinks, you branch out into dense urban areas, where a few fueling stations can service a large number of potential customers. The vehicles prove themselves and you have enough market penetration to afford building fueling stations in the suburbs. Finally, with gasoline running $12 a gallon, hydrogen cars have 30-50% market penetration so you can afford to build stations anywhere. End to end would probably happen in 20 years, give or take 5.

RE: I hope they do...
By Jeffk464 on 9/17/2009 1:16:33 AM , Rating: 2
My understanding is that fuel cells are still to expensive and are far from lasting a minimum of 10 years which any car should last(even Chrysler).

RE: I hope they do...
By ArcliteHawaii on 9/17/2009 5:51:31 AM , Rating: 2
I'm not disagreeing. I'm just explaining how one infrastructure might displace another. There are still lots of issues with fuel cells, including both longevity and cost.

RE: I hope they do...
By Starcub on 9/16/2009 10:35:08 AM , Rating: 3
Ditto, but I have questions. Why drop EV's altogether? Why not continue to develop NiMH based hybrids -- serial hybrids even? Imagine a hydrogen based serial hybrid plug-in EV.

The comparison here doesn't sound right. They expect that hydrogen will be cheaper than lithium? When? What kind of hydrogen infrastructure do they expect will be in place if everyone is developing EV's? By the time hydrogen is viable in the marketplace, I would expect that EV's would be at a profit point beyond what hydrogen alone could deliver.

RE: I hope they do...
By drmo on 9/17/2009 9:10:15 AM , Rating: 2
The Honda Clarity is a hybrid.

RE: I hope they do...
By Dwayno on 9/16/2009 4:03:05 PM , Rating: 3
Having worked in 34 years in R&D for a car company, I got to see a lot of advance work on experimental programs. Hydrogen, as with any new tech, has similar "teething" problems as any program.

Hydrogen is very corrosive...therefore the fuel line as well as all the fitting must be made of stainless steel. Since hydrogen must be stored under very high pressures to obtain the quantity needed for any serious driving...therefore all of the connection must use a compression fitting. Since hydrogen is such a light gas, the compression fittings must be spot on or they will leak (the hydrogen gas leaks that the space shuttle experiences from time to time exemplifies this problem...and the shuttle are basically hand built!). Imagine the problem this will creat with dozens of joints on hundreds of thousands vehicle.

There are no free rides electric charging stations exist for plug-in electric vehicles whenever you forget to charge your car, nor hydrogen refueling station whenever you run out of gas. Clean diesels can work, but setting up manufacturing is still 18-24 months away starting right they may be made obsolete by ever tightening CO2 standards. Hybrid aren't the perfect vehicles, but for the immediate future, they are the closest we have to a clean vehicle.

RE: I hope they do...
By Micronite on 9/16/2009 6:41:53 PM , Rating: 2
You'll be able to go hydrogen sooner than you think...

RE: I hope they do...
By Ringold on 9/17/2009 2:54:07 PM , Rating: 2
United Nuclear's been poking at that for.. 4 years? 6 years? Its run by Bob Lazar, this guy:

So.. a grain of salt is called for.

RE: I hope they do...
By Major HooHaa on 9/17/2009 6:45:06 AM , Rating: 2
A car that uses hydrogen for fuel and only produces water from the exhaust pipe? Three cheers for Toyota!

This would massively reduce environmental pollution and make our world a less polluted place.

As James May said; Producing hydrogen for cars shouldn't be any more difficult than getting oil from under the seabed... And we did that okay.

I have read recently that a new and more energy efficient ways of producing hydrogen has been developed.

RE: I hope they do...
By jimbojimbo on 9/17/2009 1:41:50 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, and hydrogen grows on trees. How do you supposed that hydrogen is produced?

RE: I hope they do...
By JediJeb on 9/17/2009 3:38:09 PM , Rating: 2
Here is research into two ways to make hydrogen with less energy input.

There is a lot of work going into making Hydrogen more efficiently. If it works out then Hydrogen may become more economical and less energy intensive than other fuels. Still a lot of work to be done, but it is being done. Don't rule Hydrogen out yet as the future fuel for most of our daily needs.

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