LAS VEGAS — Toyota Motors has either added a little smoke to one of the last two US presidents' pipe dreams, or it has intensified the pressure on rival automakers to put on the road a mass-market hydrogen fuel-cell car in the next two years.
This is because, according to Bob Carter, Toyota vice president for automotive sales, in a press conference at the annual International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) here Monday, Toyota's got just such a car. Said Carter, "In 2015, we will bring this technology to the market."
He added, "I believe this car will be the Toyota car of the future."
If this forecast proves true, it would vindicate both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, who promoted hydrogen -- prematurely, in the view of many energy experts -- as a key to US energy independence and a cleaner environment.
Toyota's fuel cell vehicle
As he addressed a packed room at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, Carter was flanked by two Toyota vehicles. One was a standard-model sedan typical of the "Frankenstein" test cars used to work out the kinks in Toyota's fuel-cell technology. The other was a model, with no actual works inside, intended to illustrate the design features of the 2015 fuel-cell vehicle.
Toyota's “Frankenstein” fuel cell test car
Most prominent among these features were two air-intake slots flanking the sides of the car's hood, intended to draw in the oxygen needed for the hydrogen-powered vehicle's fuel mix.
Carter explained that since 2002, when Toyota committed to fuel-cell technology, the Japanese automaker has faced two main difficulties. One is to make the hydrogen-fueled car, with zero emissions, affordable to the middle-class consumer.
The other challenge, said the Toyota VP, is the absence of an infrastructure of hydrogen fuel station as ubiquitous as gasoline outlets are today.
Of the first challenge, Carter said that in 11 years, and in more than a million miles of test-driving, Toyota has "dramatically reduced the cost of building a fuel-cell power-train. We have seen a 90% reduction in 2015," compared to the original prototype in 2002.
The still-prospective 2015 model fuel-cell Toyota, he said, will go 300 miles on a single (3-5 minute) fill-up.
But where's it going to fill up?