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Fuel Cell Vehicle Production builds momentum at LA and Tokyo Motor Shows

These two motor shows (for some crazy reason both running at the same time) have provided a good indication of what to expect in terms of Fuel Cell vehicle production over the next couple of years. Whilst some manufacturers such as Volkswagen appear to be taking the cautious approach, others are beating a path to the garage concourse as soon as 2014. Rudolf Krebs (VW’s electric drive man) isn’t convinced that hydrogen vehicles will take off until 2010. In the other court, 3 major manufacturers are looking to start production within the next 3 years. As you may well guess I’m supporting the latter option!

Tokyo

Toyota have been busy working on their FCV-R Saloon concept which will be able to drive 310 miles on a full tank of Hydrogen. The FCV-R design looks incredible, with its slightly menacing front end and smooth sweeping curves down either side of the body. In fact, it’s not far short of a Prius on steroids! I personally think that one of the most interesting things about fuel cell cars will be the new bodywork designs that will be possible due to fuel cells becoming more compact.

Toyota FCV-R Concept

The FCV-R has two fuel tanks holding hydrogen gas pressurised to 700 bar. The car itself is a similar size to the Toyota Avensis and can be completely refuelled with Hydrogen in approximately 3 minutes.
Toyota intend to get a version of the FCV concept on sale be 2015 with prices expected to fall somewhere between £50,000 and £60,000. Initial projected volumes are for between 5,000 and 10,000 cars per year. Toyota's experience producing the Prius appears to have given them a head start as they already have plant in place for building a great deal of the required electrical systems.

It also looks like Daihatsu have decided to join the fuel cell party too with a rather unusual concept model. The Fuel Cell Deco Deck is intended to demonstrate Daihatsu's metal-free liquid fuel cell system. It's cuboid shape is quite eye-catching but I'm not sure this is something that will catch on as a production model!

Los Angeles

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Honda have been pushing their next generation fuel cell concept, intended to replace the FCX-Clarity. The car features a 30% smaller fuel cell stack with 60% greater density, or in layman’s terms more power in a smaller box. Its range is similar to its rivals, offering 300 miles on a full tank of hydrogen.

Honda Fuel Cell

The styling of this model means it would not look out of place in the iRobot or Demolition Man movies. Honda’s US boss commented, "The FCEV Concept demonstrates Honda's vision for the future of personal mobility and our commitment to developing advanced alternative fuel vehicles.”

Their next fuel cell car is targeted for production in North America and Japan in 2015, later followed by Europe.

Finally, Hyundai have unveiled the Tucson, due to go on sale in 2014. This is quite possibly the car of the moment, as it will be one of the first fuel cell vehicles to enter mass production. Whilst the design of the vehicle isn’t too revolutionary it’s what’s under the bonnet that makes it special. The Tucson features a 134bhp fuel cell, a 29kW battery and a range of 369 miles.
Pricing isn’t yet available for the vehicle but I would imagine it will not be far short of the £50,000 quoted for Toyota’s concept.

Hyundai Tucson

Additionally, Hyundai have been busy nurturing relationships with hydrogen fuel suppliers so that their vehicles don’t run out of juice after leaving the showroom. The last time I looked in on this they were particularly excited by ITM Power’s mobile refueling unit, ideal for return to base fleets.

From a more general viewpoint I believe that most of these vehicles are going to see company fleets as the initial users/backers. There are 3 reasons that I can see for this:

1) They have the finance available to cover the initially high price tags
2) They are able to host onsite refueling solutions
3) The environmental credentials will help them to avoid congestion charge zones as well as to reduce their carbon footprint