Fuel Cell Toyota Vehicle in 2015, Millions of Hybrids Sooner

By dancurranjr On February 5th, 2009

toyota-ft-ev_concept_2009_300In 2015, Toyota will bring a fuel cell-powered vehicle to global markets, promises Irv Miller, Toyota veep of environmental and public Affairs. Once the province of grad student in electrical engineering, fuel cell technology—the ability to produce electrical current by passing ions through a semi-permeable membrane—is approaching viable marketability. As in, Yes, Toyota will be selling them.

Will Toyota make money its first fuel cell cars? The cynic in us says “no,” not at first, but it has put down a marker as it did with the Prius, which Miller notes was first with a hybrid to market. It seems like yesterday, but it twelve years ago. Last year, he notes, Toyota sold nearly 430,000 gas-electric hybrids worldwide. “Early in the next decade,” he adds, “we will sell a million hybrids per year globally.

To achieve the million sales, says Miller, “We will launch no less than ten new gas-electric hybrid models in that time.”

The Prius has come a long way, from 1997 novelty to—along with other Toyota and Lexus models using the same technology—general acceptance, if not mainstream application. The all-new third-generation Prius achieves fifty miles per gallon and the Lexus HS250h, like the Prius announced at the Detroit Auto Show is the first Lexus to be designed from the ground up as a hybrid vehicle.

Toyota is also developing pure electric vehicles and will beat last year’s forecast by delivering plug-in lithium-ion battery Priuses for fleet evaluation, the first arriving before the end of the year. Five-hundred vehicles will be produced, the initial 500 going to fleet operations for marketing and engineering evaluation. The batteries will be production line-produced at a joint venture plant that Toyota owns sixty percent of with Panasonic.

Lithium-ion battery vehicles will be brought to market “in various regions of the world” by 2012, Miller saying that “it just might look something like FT-EV introduced in Detroit this year. The big problem, say Miller, is “owners whose cell-phone mentality [that] will demand anytime/anyplace recharging access…at an affordable price.”

That will take, claims Miller, “partnerships between businesses, government, academia and industry.” Miller calls on “federal and state stakeholders to establish a single national program to significantly raise fuel economy and significantly reduce CO2, greenhouse gasses and smog-forming emissions.”

Attacking somewhat obliquely the recent Obama administration decision to allow the patchwork application of CO2 emissions among various states, Miller called for “certainty and continuity in CAFE regulations.” Surprisingly, perhaps, though not so from an automobile company executive, Miller called for a move away from “high-volume mass transit to individual city cars.”

Yet Miller called for “urban design” that will include “clustered refueling and recharging stations,” and for replacing coal generated electric power to a combination of wind, solar and natural gas” with a power grid “smart enough and robust enough to live up to customer expectations.”

Noticeably absent from what Miller says we need, however, was nuclear power generation and there was no mention of the difficulty of placing power generation in one locale to serve the needs of those in another or the expense and political leverage needed to drive transmission lines through the backyards of one region to serve the needs of another. Indeed, local power generation can be strongly opposed by NIMBY residents, such as wind turbines visible from Martha’s Vineyard.

Of course, Miller’s remarks were made in Washington, DC, and perhaps it’s unfair to accuse him of pandering, but to welcome 2009 as “a year that I believe will mark the historic beginning of a new era of change and of hope for our country, for our global economy and our automotive industry,” is certainly singing out of the hymnal of the party in power.

Toyota has achieved its status in the world, not by ukase of a car czar, but by the rough and tumble of the free market, of selling vehicles that people want to buy—including large SUVs and pickup trucks. Even Toyota at its greenest, the Prius now in its third generation has succeeded, even with taxpayer subsidy of buyers, primarily on its own merits.

By calling on government to designate winners and losers rather than allowing people the free choice is not what made Toyota great, and it shouldn’t be what drives the automobile in

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