TOYOTA SHOWS OFF FUEL-CELL AUTOMOBILE

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

c.2013 New York Times News Service

TOKYO — Finally, hydrogen-powered cars are being readied for their Prius moment — at least, that is what promoters of the environmentally friendly technology hope.

Toyota, maker of the Prius, the first hybrid vehicle to achieve mass-market acceptance, on Wednesday unveiled a concept version of a hydrogen fuel-cell car that it plans to begin selling “around 2015,” as the company put it. The bright blue sedan is shaped like a drop of water to emphasize that water is the only substance that hydrogen-powered cars emit from their tailpipes.

The car, which Toyota calls the FCV concept, was one of several vehicles with alternative powertrains to take the spotlight at the Tokyo Motor Show, which opened to reporters Wednesday. Later in the day, two other carmakers, Honda and Hyundai, were expected to display new fuel-cell vehicles at a preview for another auto show in Los Angeles.

Honda was set to unveil a concept version of a new car it plans to introduce in 2015. Hyundai, which is based in South Korea, says it intended to beat both of its Japanese rivals to market next year with a hydrogen-powered vehicle based on its Tucson SUV.

For years, automakers have talked about the potential of hydrogen power to help them reduce harmful greenhouse gas pollution and meet strict emissions standards in places like California. But there is a joke in the industry that “fuel-cell technology is always five years down the road,” said Alan Baum of Baum & Associates, an auto industry analyst in West Bloomfield, Mich.

Fuel-cell cars, which create the electricity that powers them by combining hydrogen with the oxygen in the atmosphere, have been held back by a variety of factors, including the high cost and a dearth of hydrogen filling stations. Although a handful of fuel-cell test cars and fleet vehicles are on the road, the new models from Honda, Hyundai and Toyota are expected to be among the first hydrogen-powered cars available to the public.

“Everybody has been putting their toe in the water, but Toyota putting its toe in the water is a bit more significant,” Baum said.

“One of the reasons we are doing this is to send a message,” said Satoshi Ogiso, deputy chief officer in Toyota’s product planning group.

Fuel-cell cars will give greater choice to consumers who are seeking powertrains that are easier on the environment, creating a potential rivalry with battery-powered electric vehicles.