Where are we exactly with the hydrogen car?
In contrast to electric vehicles to which, finally, leading European carmakers—Mercedes Benz and Volkswagen in particular—committed seriously at this year’s Paris Auto Show, hydrogen cars have yet to take the world by storm, or even by a light breeze.
They are virtually invisible again this year on the Paris show floor.
When asked about fuel cells, Ian Robertson, chief of sales and marketing at BMW Group, told the press, “Hydrogen is not off the table.” Although this is not exactly a ringing endorsement, he was at least implying that the automotive industry isn’t yet dropping hydrogen from its future plans.
FCV PLUS is not just a car, but also a power generator
The case in point is Toyota.
The Japanese carmaker brought to Paris a concept car called Toyota FCV (Fuel Cell Vehicle) PLUS. It uses compressed hydrogen as its fuel source. Unique to the FCV PLUS, however, is Toyota’s proposition that the FCV PLUS will be also used as a “generator” for homes, other cars and local power grids.
The FVC PLUS can make electricity for the driver’s home, for example. Or the FCV PLUS can share the electricity stored on board with other cars and local power grids, Toyota explained.
“In essence, we are suggesting that fuel cells can be used as a means to generate and provide electricity to power the society,” a Toyota spokesman based in Brussels told us.
Figure 1: Wireless battery-charging panel covering the rear wheels of the Toyota FCV PLUS.
The concept car features a built-in wireless battery-charging panel covering the rear wheels. It includes a wireless panel built under the forward floor of the car. The panel is essentially to wirelessly transfer electricity to other cars, power grids and homes.
Figure 2: Wireless panel built under the forward floor of the Toyota FCV PLUS.
Asked what wireless standard the FCV PLUS uses, the Toyota spokesman said he doesn’t know. He explained that Toyota doesn’t expect the FCV PLUS to be launched on the commercial market for perhaps 20 years. Meanwhile, the Japanese company is busy testing wireless charging schemes, he added.
The future of Mirai
Toyota rolled out its first commercial hydrogen fuel cell vehicle named “Mirai” (which means “future” in Japanese) in December 2014. The U.S. launch followed in August 2015. As of June 2016, the Mirai is available for retail sales in the UK, Denmark, Germany, Belgium and Norway, according to Toyota.
Figure 3: Toyota's hydrogencar Mirai
At this point, Mirai’s sales volume remains nominal—with 1,100 cars worldwide thus far, according to Toyota. Only 55 units of Mirai have been sold in Europe as of last August.
“We began shipping Mirai because we wanted to boost the conversation that Mirai is here,” said the Toyota spokesman. The build-out of infrastructure remains a major roadblock for the future of a hydrogen-driven society.
Nevertheless, Toyota continues to pursue the hydrogen dream. BMW and Toyota have been working on the development of fuel cell stacks, the Toyota spokesman told us.