Satoshi Ogiso, dubbed "the grandfather of the Prius
," said in a recent interview in Tokyo, "Earlier would have been better, but it's taken a long time to get to this point." The point Ogiso was talking about was the arrival of representative prototypes of Toyota's hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, the precursor to the production FCV
that the Japanese brand will offer for sale "around 2015."
It is intriguing that the company that broke open the hybrid vehicle segment and is now the go-to brand when car shoppers want to be green is regularly lambasted for its push into hydrogen. If bullying were a concept one could apply to cars, the Prius would be Exhibit A in support of the victim. But Toyota
stuck with it, losing money on every one of them for years until, in a role reversal worthy of George McFly and Biff from Back to the Future
, now it's, well, the
And that's Prius, sir
, to you, thank you.
What drives Toyota's hydrogen push is not an idealistic worldview, but a business case.
Toyota is not walking away from hybrids – in fact, it sees them playing a role for a long time into the future – but the company believes that unless there's a quantum leap in battery technology, hydrogen-powered vehicles will be the greater part of a diverse mix of vehicles used for medium- and long-range applications. What drives that idea is not an idealistic worldview, but a business case.
Said Toyota Technical Center Principle Engineer
Matt McClory, "This is always a kind of mythical issue and I really don't know where it comes from. We could never have started – not only Toyota but all the major automakers – we would not have started doing fuel cells back in the '90s if we thought it would not make sense to come to market as an economical and sustainable solution."
We have now had a chance to drive Toyota's hydrogen fuel cell car twice, once earlier this year in California, and once a couple of months ago in Japan. We were repeatedly told in California, "The future is fuel cell." And in Japan, just a few months away from the car's introduction at this year's Consumer Electronics Show
, we were told by John Hanson, Toyota's national manager of environmental, safety & quality communications, "The powertrain's been invented, making it a real car."