The future is here - Japan
launches fuel cell
PlanetArk.org, Dec. 3, 2002
TOKYO - It sounds too good to be true: a car that
runs on an inexhaustible power source and doesn't harm the environment.
But that's exactly what two Japanese automakers put on the road yesterday, with the launch of the world's first fuel cell cars.
Toyota Motor and Honda Motor are leasing a handful of the cars to the Japanese government and several public establishments in the United States in an experimental programme that marks the biggest step yet towards the mass marketing of fuel cell vehicles (FCVs).
The ultimate "green car", FCVs could be part of the solution to smog, global warming and other ecological problems that conventional cars help cause.
The technology, which was first used during the Apollo moon project in the 1960s, mixes hydrogen fuel and oxygen from air using an electrochemical process to produce the electricity that powers the car.
Far from harming the environment, its only by-products are heat and water - water so pure the Apollo astronauts drank it.
Many of the world's biggest carmakers want to make FCVs available to the average consumer. If all goes as planned, FCVs may begin replacing gasoline-powered cars in the next decade.
However, carmakers still haven't figured out how to make FCVs at an affordable price, or how to build enough fuelling stations - and rapidly enough - to make them practical.
The high costs of research would force car firms to charge anything from $1 million to $2 million for every FCV initially.
"There are still many challenges left for full-blown commercialisation," Honda President Hiroyuki Yoshino said at a handover ceremony at the prime minister's office.
Leasing the first FCVs won't be cheap, either.
Three Japanese ministries and the Cabinet Office will fork out a hefty $9,800 a month to rent Toyota's five-seater "FCHV". Honda's four-seater "FCX" will cost $6,500 a month in Japan.
Still, FCVs are considered the most promising alternative to today's gasoline-fuelled cars.
Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. Oil supplies, on the other hand, are finite, and global oil production could peak by 2020, according to a U.S. government report.
That means even gasoline-electric hybrid cars, the most fuel-efficient cars around now, will lose their power source one day.
Unlike pure electric cars, FCVs don't need to be recharged. They can run for at least 300 kilometres (186 miles) before refuelling, at a speed of about 150 km an hour (93 mph).
With automotive vehicles believed to be responsible for a third of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, which lead to global warming, governments have recognised the urgent need to encourage cleaner cars.
"When I took office last year, I promised that in three years we would replace all cars used by the government with low-emission vehicles, even if it costs a little more," Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said at the ceremony.
"It's important that we continue to develop green cars."
The United States is doing its part, too.
Although the country pulled out of an international treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, its biggest auto market, California, has been aggressively leading the nation's drive for stricter standards for emissions and fuel efficiency.
California, which has the unique right to set its own emissions regulations, is calling for all cars sold in the state to have near-zero emissions by 2009, which could set a precedent for federal legislation.
The state is leading by example. The FCVs launched today will be leased to two California universities by Toyota and the city of Los Angeles by Honda.
The United States is also keen to reduce its dependence on oil from the Middle East, and fuel cell technology is one answer.
In addition to price, the question of refuelling stations could be the biggest barrier to winning a mass market.
Japan, the world's second-largest automobile market, wants to lay the groundwork for full commercialisation by 2005, with the aim of having five million FCVs - or one out of every 14 cars - on the road by 2020, but there are no concrete estimates of how many hydrogen stations would be needed.
"Today, there are about 53,000 petrol stands for the 70 million cars in Japan, so you can do the maths," said Yasuji Hamada, an official at the economy, trade and industry ministry.
Using that ratio, it would take 3,800 hydrogen stations to fuel the five million FCVs that Japan wants on the road by 2020, and they would need to be spread out around the country.
Even before that, Japanese officials will have to revise 26 laws - many of them safety-related - to make it possible for carmakers to mass market FCVs.
Because hydrogen in its natural gaseous state is potentially dangerous to store, Japanese regulations prohibit permanent hydrogen fuelling stations. Only three state-run sites exist, and strictly on an experimental basis.
Industry executives think it's too optimistic to expect FCVs to be a common sight on the roads any time soon.
"But with science, you can never tell. There could be a sudden breakthrough, and who knows, fuel cell vehicles could even overtake hybrid cars in number in the next 10 years," Honda's Yoshino said.
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
Toyota to start leasing fuel-cell cars next month
TOKYO, Nov 18 (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp said on Monday it had become the first automaker to win government approval to market fuel-cell passenger cars, touted as the eventual answer to most of the environmental concerns caused by conventional vehicles.
Due to the high cost of the cars, the vehicles will be leased at a cost of 1.2 million yen ($9,970) a month under a 30-month contract. They will be made available to government bodies, research institutions and energy-related companies.
As announced in July, the world's third-largest automaker said it would lease 20 "Toyota FCHV" cars in Japan and the United States during the 12 months from December 2, starting with one vehicle each to four Japanese ministries by this year.
Fuel cells use an electrochemical process to create electricity by mixing hydrogen with oxygen, emitting only heat and water as by-products.
But hydrogen in its natural gaseous state is difficult to store and distribute, so fuel cell vehicles for the ordinary consumer are not seen as likely for at least a decade.
German-U.S. automaker DaimlerChrysler AG was the first to bring to market a limited series of fuel cell buses in 2000, while Toyota's domestic rival Honda Motor Co is expecting government approval for it to begin marketing its fuel cell vehicle next month, probably on the same day as Toyota.
The Japanese government is keen to encourage the development of fuel cell vehicles, having set a goal of 50,000 on the road in Japan by 2010.
Toyota, widely seen as the leader in environmentally friendly auto technology, put the first hybrid gasoline-electric vehicle, the Prius, on the market in 1997. ($1=120.36 Yen)
For Immediate Release November 18, 2002
Government OKs Market-ready Toyota Fuel Cell Passenger Vehicle for Dec. 2 Launch
Tokyo—TOYOTA MOTOR CORPORATION (TMC) announced today that the Toyota FCHV has become the first-ever market-ready fuel cell vehicle to be certified by Japan's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport. TMC plans to start leasing the Toyota FCHV on Dec. 2.
Since announcing in July that it will market about 20 fuel cell hybrid passenger vehicles in Japan and the U.S. over a period of 12 months starting around the end of this year, TMC has been focusing on development of the vehicle and a vehicle support system and has raised these elements to a dependable level in preparation for ministry certification.
Initially, four Toyota FCHVs will be leased to customers in the Tokyo metropolitan area, which is due to soon have in place the necessary infrastructure, including hydrogen- supply facilities, an inspection and maintenance system and a system to address traffic mishaps. The Cabinet Secretariat, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transportation and the Ministry of the Environment will be the first customers. TMC sees the Toyota FCHV customer list eventually including other government bodies, including on the local level, and energy-related businesses.
From the start of its fuel cell vehicle effort in 1992, TMC has constantly pursued in-house development of a proprietary fuel cell, the core component of any fuel cell vehicle. The Toyota FCHV features the result of this effort—the high-performance Toyota FC Stack.
The Toyota FCHV is an advanced FCHV with enhanced reliability and durability and is based on the FCHV-4 prototype, units of which have accumulated approximately 130,000 kilometers in trial runs, both on test tracks and public roads. By applying the hybrid technologies honed in the Toyota Prius and other Toyota hybrid vehicles, the Toyota FCHV finely regulates power flow from the Toyota FC Stack and battery to achieve both high efficiency and luxury car-like quiet and smooth driving performance.
The Toyota FCHV also has a lighter body—with a roof, fenders and other components made of aluminum, one of the best aerodynamic performances in the world for an SUV—thanks to a flat underbody, and LED brake lights and taillights for minimum power consumption. And it comes with an environmentally considerate air conditioner originally developed for the FCHV-4 that uses CO2 (rather than CFC) as a coolant.
Plans to market the Toyota FCHV in the U.S., also within this year, are on track as well, and Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. will soon release details on its FCHV program.