Toyota: “hydrogen fuel cells are the ultimate eco car”

Hydrogen is the future, says Toyota, but it won’t underpin sports cars

Toyota is being bullish about how our cars will be powered in the future. It won’t sell pure petrol or diesel cars by 2050, and it sees hydrogen as the ideal solution.

“Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are the ultimate eco car,” Kiyotaka Ise, Toyota’s engineering boss, told Top Gear. “But an improvement in infrastructure is a must.”

Toyota currently produces 3,000 fuel cells a year – the Mirai saloon being its key hydrogen car – but it wants that number to be ten times as large by the early 2020s. Cost will be a big factor, with the Mirai currently around £66,000 in the UK. But Ise tells us that by 2025, a hydrogen car will be the same price as a hybrid. That means the Mirai will match the Prius, which is £25,000 in today’s money.

But that doesn’t mean hybrids – or pure electric cars – are being replaced. “Hydrogen and EV will co-exist,” Ise says. “An EV is a better option in compact cars, while fuel cells work for larger cars.” Electric cars will also major in countries short on hydrogen filling stations, he says. Toyota used the Tokyo motor show to reveal not only a fuel-cell people carrier, but a bus, which is ready for production and will transport people at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Why is hydrogen so good? Fuel cell cars typically have a similar range to a petrol car and are filled up in a similar way, while the hydrogen that powers them can be made from just about anything, human waste included. Yep, in ten years you might be driving a poo-powered Toyota.

To stifle childish giggles, we ask Ise if he wants to make a fast fuel cell. “In sports cars you need engine noise, and an EV or fuel cell doesn’t have that,” he says. “Using fuel cells for Formula E would avoid the need to swap cars or batteries and would allow for a normal race, perhaps with refuelling. It could replace regular gasoline racing but you’d be missing the noise.”

So while pure petrol cars won’t be on Toyota’s price list in 2050, there will still be petrol power underpinning the hybrids it makes. If that means the mighty Century still has a V8 in it in 33 years’ time, we’re not quite sure…