Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) powered by hydrogen were taken more seriously at the LA Auto Show and Tokyo Motor Show last month than ever before, but their presence in the market is still shrouded in fog. Soichiro Okudaira, chief officer of research and development at Toyota, is confident fuel cell costs will come down enough to make FCEVs "just one alternative of the eco cars," but that probably won't happen for another 10-15 years.
Toyota thinks FCEVs will be price competitive against other zero-emission vehicles some time after 2020 and before 2030, Okudaira told Automotive News Europe. Interestingly, the Japanese automaker is confident that cost reductions will come through soon enough to help it sell between 5,000 and 10,000 units a year once the production version of the FCV Concept goes on sale in the first part of 2015.
Retail pricing on the fuel cell car has yet to be announced, but production costs have been coming down. The fuel cell powertrain that Toyota built for a demonstration vehicle in 2007 cost nearly 750,000 euros (over $1 million). A production vehicle is nothing like a concept, and Toyota is now saying a hydrogen powertrain for the 2015 vehicle could cost about 35,900 euros ($50,000) to build, about half the car's expected 72,000-euro ($100,000) price tag. Costs have been coming down in the fuel cell stack by reducing the amount of platinum in the catalyst and making the stack smaller so that it can fit under the front seats. Sharing a motor and other electronic components with the Toyota hybrid lineup is helping lower costs, too.
Toyota is now saying the hydrogen powertrain for 2015 could cost about $50,000 to build.
You can see in the FCV Concept photo gallery how much it looks like the Prius but Toyota has now clarified that the new Prius platform will not be used for the fuel cell car, in part because the FCEV is heavier and has a different underbody structure and layout. What's not yet clear is if the upcoming production fuel-cell vehicle will wear a Prius badge. Readers are split on that.
Selling 5,000 to 10,000 hydrogen-powered units a year after 2015 is more than other automakers are willing to say publicly. Hyundai is previewing a fuel-cell crossover concept and expects to sell about 1,000 fuel cell Tucson SUVs next year. Honda will sell a five-seat fuel cell vehicle in 2015, and Daimler will roll out a fuel cell variant of its B-Class compact car starting in 2017.