Toyota switches hydrogen FCEV focus to commercial vehicles

Toyota Mirai 2020 front quarter tracking

Mk1 Toyota Mirai was launched in 2014; Mk2 (pictured) arrived in 2020

Firm admits Mirai has “not been successful” but pledges to refine FCEV technology for passenger cars

Toyota is switching the focus of its hydrogen fuel-cell technology development from passenger cars to commercial vehicles.

Technical chief Hiroki Nakajima confirmed the change in approach at the Tokyo motor show.

The Japanese firm has long been a pioneer of FCEV technology, most notably with the Toyota Mirai, but wider uptake of hasn’t materialised, partly due to the complexity of setting up a network of hydrogen fuelling stations.

“We have tried Mirai but not been successful,” said Nakajima. “Hydrogen stations are very few and difficult to realise, so Mirai is smaller [in volume].”

However, commercial vehicles are considered far more suitable for hydrogen, not only due to the unsuitability of batteries to power them (due to the size and weight that would be needed) but also the ability to set up a more controlled fuelling network.

“For mid-size trucks, it’s easy to deliver [a refuelling network], as it’s mainly A to B,” said Nakajima. “Huge numbers of trucks go from A to B, so you can operate stations with more stability. Commercial vehicles are the most important area to try to proceed on with hydrogen.”

Toyota Mirai Mk1 at Shell hydrogen filling station

However, Nakajima said Toyota “didn’t want to give up on [hydrogen] passenger cars” and was looking at ways to downsize components including the fuel cell stack and the tanks in order to make it applicable to different types of cars and broaden its appeal.

Pick-up trucks also offer a potential use for hydrogen, believes Nakajima.

He also provided more details on Toyota’s battery development, which will result in the firm launching its solid-state battery technology in 2027 or 2028. 

This future technology has long been considered a game-changer for battery electric vehicles, having the potential to improve power density of batteries and thus reduce the size, weight and cost of them.

Nakajima said the first wave of solid-state batteries – which Toyota is developing in conjunction with oil giant Idemitsu – would be very expensive and their use in cars would initially be limited to a “high-performance car” or a car with “high-performance charging”.

Toyota Mirai rear quarter tracking

In the meantime, Toyota will introduce its latest lithium ion battery technology with its next generation of electric cars built on a new highly modular architecture from 2026.

Nakajima said this had been created with an ethos of downsizing components such as the e-axles, HVAC system and battery packs (which have been made as slim as 100mm) as much as possible to allow them to fit into a much broader types of car, including lower Lexus saloons and Toyota sports cars.

One such sports car concept using the new architecture is the Toyota FT-Se revealed in Tokyo.

“As much as possible, we want to realise a fun-to-drive image,” said Nakajima.

The firm’s imitation manual transmission will become a staple offering of fun EVs, said Nakajima, who said that such cars should “not just be high-torque, high-power; the goal is how we can provide that fun-to-drive image”.

The software potential of the new architecture would also allow people to download different performance packs for their cars. Examples given included the performance of the Lexus LFA and the steering feel of the Toyota GR86.

Source: Autocar

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