Toyota is moving forward with production plans for the Toyota FCV concept, which debuted at this year’s Tokyo auto show, with a lot of confidence. Banking on lowered fuel-cell production costs, Toyota hopes to sell 5,000 to 10,000 fuel-cell vehicles in 2015.
While it’s quite far in advance to determine whether or not this is just wishful thinking, Toyota’s chief research and development officer Soichiro Okudaira told Automotive News that Toyota is serious about bringing fuel-cell technology into the mass-market consciousness as a viable and affordable eco option.
“Beyond 2020…fuel cell cars will be considered just one alternative of the eco cars,” he said in the interview.
By cutting the amount of platinum in the catalyst, shrinking down the fuel-cell stack to fit under the front seats, and sharing parts with existing hybrid models, Toyota has already brought costs down from when demonstration vehicles were built in 2007. At that time, each fuel-cell system cost an astronomical €750,000 (over $103 million). The system now costs about €35,900 (about $50,000), which accounts for half of the entire car’s projected €72,000 ($100,000) price tag.
Reportedly, despite sharing some components, the fuel-cell sedan will not be built on the same platform as the next-generation Toyota Prius. The fuel-cell vehicle has its own underbody structure and layout, and is apparently heavier than the new lighter-weight TNGA-platform Prius.
Toyota is right to focus on future accessibility for its production fuel-cell vehicle set to go on sale in early 2015. While the Toyota FCV concept claims an impressive 300-mile range and three-minute refueling time, better infrastructure needs to be put in place and prices need to come down significantly before the car can be expected to garner any mass-market appeal.
According to AN, Toyota believes that continued engineering efforts and larger production volumes can help make a competitively-priced fuel-cell a reality. Okudaira said that the Japanese automaker plans to lower production costs even further by 2020. AN calculates that by then, the cost of a Toyota fuel-cell vehicle could drop to €45,000 ($62,000).
While there are a handful of other automakers slowly testing the fuel-cell waters, Toyota’s estimate of 5,000 to 10,000 in sales is by far the most ambitious. Hyundai will release its 2014 Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell on a limited release in the spring of 2014, with less than 1000 units planned for lease between then and 2016. Honda, which showed its FCEV concept at the 2013 Los Angeles auto show, could have a production version on the market as early as 2015, presumably available to more than the small handful which currently drive the Honda FCX Clarity.
Honda announced earlier this year that it would partner with GM to build a fuel-cell system by 2020, but by then Toyota may be well ahead of the curve and already penetrating the yet-untested marketplace.