Toyota Motor Corp. showed off its newest fuel-cell-powered vehicle Wednesday but said that although the Highlander-sport-utility-based FCHV-4 represents a nearly seamless integration of fuel cell technology into a standard production vehicle, mass production and retail sales are at least a decade away.
The five-passenger fuel cell hybrid vehicle is unusual in that it uses a small storage battery to capture the electricity produced in the hydrogen-fed fuel cell and feed it to the motor on demand. Other systems feed power from the fuel cell directly to the motor and need to use a much larger compressor than Toyota's to get maximum electrical output. Toyota's system minimizes compressor noise and results in a much quieter ride.
Engineers at Toyota Technical Center in Torrance, where the vehicle was unveiled, said it has a top speed of 95 mph and a range of 155 miles. It takes about five minutes to refill the hydrogen tank, compared with several hours to recharge the storage batteries on a battery-powered electric vehicle.
Fuel cell vehicles also use electric motors, but the electricity is produced on board in the fuel cell in a process that combines hydrogen and oxygen, passes it through a catalyst and leaves distilled water as the only byproduct.
Although auto makers generally have used the term "hybrid" to describe vehicles that combine electric motors and internal combustion engines, Toyota said its all-electric fuel cell vehicle also is a hybrid because it uses a storage battery.
Toyota has built five of the FCHV-4 (for fourth generation) vehicles and is keeping three in Japan for testing while sending two to California for use over the next two years in the Sacramento-based California Fuel Cell Partnership technology demonstration program. Other auto makers that belong to the partnership and are working on fuel cell development are Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp., DaimlerChrysler, Honda Motor Co., Hyundai Motor Co., Nissan Corp. and Volkswagen.