Australia to miss out on Toyota’s fuel-cell future

TOYOTA says it will need to jump a number of hurdles before even thinking about bringing its first hydrogen-fuelled production sedan to Australia.

The Japanese car-making giant today revealed the shape of its future, the production version of a compact four-door sedan based on the ‘Fuel Cell Concept’ car unveiled at last year’s Tokyo motor show, converting hydrogen to electricity via an powered using on-board fuel cell.

When it goes on sale in Japan in April 2015 ahead of a mid-year launch in Europe and the US, the as-yet unnamed car will cost the equivalent of about $73,000, or about the same as a high-end BMW 3 Series sedan.

However, Toyota has flagged the fuel cell sedan will only go on sale in regions where the refuelling infrastructure was being developed – and Australia is well off the radar.

Toyota Australia executive director of sales and marketing Tony Cramb said that, while the arrival of fuel-cell technology for cars was an “exciting development”, a number of things would need to change before the hydrogen-based cars were sold here.

"Toyota's history with hybrid vehicles provides the experience needed to launch a new technology to the market in countries where the fuelling infrastructure is available," Mr Cramb said.

"In Australia, there are many challenges ahead, including development of the required infrastructure and greater customer awareness, before hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles can be offered here.

"But Toyota is confident that hydrogen will become increasingly popular as a way of powering vehicles around the world," he said.

A US-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory study last year found that the cost of building a hydrogen refuelling station ranged between $US2.8 million and $US11.5 million ($A3.0m-$A12.2m) depending on whether a hydrogen generator was built into the station.

Toyota has not shared too many details of how rich the interior of the fuel-cell sedan is likely to be, but says it will travel the same distance as a conventionally engined vehicle.

Toyota aims to make the transition to a fuel-cell vehicle as simple as possible for owners, with the promise it can be refuelled in a matter of minutes, just like a conventionally engined vehicle.

Mercedes-Benz and BMW have both attempted to show how seamlessly they could integrate hydrogen fuel into vehicles, although with very different approaches.

BMW’s Hydrogen7 was a conventional 7 Series converted to run on the fuel, which was burnt in the limousine’s V12 engine instead of petrol, emitting nothing but water in the form of steam.

Mercedes-Benz, meanwhile, brought a hydrogen-powered version of its B-Class hatchback to Australia as part of a world tour showcasing the technology. The F-Cell, as the vehicle was known, used a similar fuel cell set-up as Toyota to convert hydrogen into electricity, also emitting only water.

The difficulty in sourcing fuel meant a tanker full of liquid hydrogen, as well as a temporary refuelling station, had to follow each vehicle as it toured the country.

Sign up here to receive the latest round-up of Wheels news, reviews and video highlights straight to your inbox each week.