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Toyota Australia says take-up of hydrogen cars will be "much faster than the 20 years we saw for hybrid"

It took Toyota 20 years to establish hybrid, but the brand says you could be in a hydrogen car sooner than you might expect.

Toyota Australia says despite low visibility for hydrogen electric vehicles (FCEVs) thus far, the technology will catch on much more quickly than the 20 years it took to establish the brand’s now-eponymous hybrid synergy drive.

“The current-generation Mirai is being trialled [in Victoria],” explained Toyota Australia sales and marketing boss. Sean Hanley. “Our new hydrogen refuelling station will be completed by March in Altona, but it’s infrastructure that will hold up hydrogen expansion.

"We’ve been taking with governments to assist, and large investments were made five years ago. Hydrogen is very much on the Australian agenda. It’s a big deal for Toyota Australia economically, but also for reducing our CO2 footprint.

“The acceptance and take-up rate is dependent on infrastructure, but it will be much faster than the 20 years we saw for hybrid.”

Mr Hanley’s comments are echoed by comments made by senior Hyundai executives recently at the launch of the Korean giant’s first hydrogen fuel cell commercial vehicle, the Xcient truck for Europe. The South Korean brands believes that infrastructure will need to be rolled out and developed by commercial operators to make the maths work for passenger cars.

“You need 700 passenger cars, but just 10-15 trucks to make a [refuelling station] financially viable,” explained Hyundai’s VP of commercial vehicle strategy at the time. The brand’s VP of fuel cell development, Sae Hoon Kim, also noted “if we don’t have a passenger vehicle program, it makes it difficult to reduce the cost. Trucks are benefitting from passenger vehicle research, but both have to go hand-in-hand.”

Toyota Japan is currently trialling a hydrogen fuel cell hybrid train. Toyota Japan is currently trialling a hydrogen fuel cell hybrid train.

Toyota Japan recently announced a rollout of new hydrogen-powered products and trial programs in its home market, including a hydrogen fuel cell hybrid train (to be used by the JR East railway company), and a program exploring the viability of a fuel cell commercial truck under the Hino brand.

The truck will run several routes around the Tokyo region, including one from Asahi’s Ibaraki brewery to a delivery centre in Tokyo. The trucks will have a range of roughly 600km and importantly have a much higher-pressure hydrogen system than those used by Hyundai’s Xcient truck (thereby giving them a longer range with a smaller system footprint).

The aim is to establish hydrogen as a legitimate alternative to diesel trucks, which Toyota says account for 70 per cent of all CO2 emissions from commercial vehicles in Japan.

Our biggest follow-up question to the brand’s local representatives, though, was where does this leave the Toyota Prius now that hybrid is established and fuel-cells are covered off by the Mirai?

The new-generation Mirai looks more Lexus ES than Toyota Prius. The new-generation Mirai looks more Lexus ES than Toyota Prius.

Does the nameplate have a future? Perhaps as an electric vehicle, a plug-in hybrid, or even as a fuel-cell electric vehicle?

“We may rationalise the Prius range, but the nameplate will continue,” Mr Hanley said without wanting to get into the specifics of what that could mean.

He did, however, have a position for the brand on the future of plug-in hybrids, revealing “we don’t have a firm plan for plug-in hybrids, but we’ve never ruled it out from coming to our market. Toyota Australia is not opposed to PHEV technology. Toyota is positioned well to adopt whatever powertrain will meet demand”.

A plug-in hybrid RAV4 is available overseas and is the brand's second-fastest production vehicle currently on sale thanks to its more powerful electric motor. It is not slated for an Australian launch for the time being.

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