Attendees look at the Toyota FCV fuel cell vehicle concept car at the Toyota booth at the 2014 International CES at the Las Vegas Convention Center on January 7, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
Detroit — A top U.S. Toyota Motor Corp. executive strongly stood by its focus on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, defending their safety and dismissing criticism from the top executives at Tesla Motors, Nissan Motor Co. and others.
“I realize there is no shortage of naysayers regarding the viability of this technology and the infrastructure to support it,” said Bob Carter, senior vice president for automotive operations, Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc, at the Automotive News World Congress. “Personally, I don’t care what Elon, Carlos or Jonathan say about fuel cells. If they want to ‘plug in and tune out’ other technologies, that’s fine.”
He was referencing criticism from Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn among others, who favor electric vehicles as the answer.
“So competitors who dismiss fuel cells out of hand do so at their own peril,” he said.
Toyota unveiled its hydrogen fuel cell vehicle at at CES — the consumer electronics show — in Las Vegas last week, but hasn’t disclosed its volume plans. “We plan to bring a production version of this vehicle to market next year,” he said. “We truly believe it has the same potential as the first Prius. We’ve been working on this technology since 1992,” Carter said. “Trust me, Toyota would not have continued on this path for this long if it didn’t make good business sense. Fuel cell vehicles offer several advantages. They drive like electric cars but can be refueled like gasoline cars.”
He also defended their safety. “They’re safe. In testing, we fired small-caliber bullets at the hydrogen tank and they just bounced off it. It took a 50-caliber armor-piercing bullet to penetrate the shell. And, even then, it just left a hole and the hydrogen simply leaked out,” Carter said.
Fuel cell vehicles face very high costs and a lack of refueling infrastructure. But he said the costs will come down. “Fuel cell vehicles will be cost-effective,” Carter said. “With economies of scale, we’re confident a fuel cell vehicle’s MSRP will eventually be on par with today’s plug-in hybrids.”
He said the refueling issue can be resolved. “In California where we’ll initially market our sedan, it will only take about 68 station sites to regularly re-fuel about 10,000 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Another way to look at it is if every vehicle in California ran on hydrogen, we could meet refueling logistics with only 15 percent of the nearly 10,000 gasoline stations currently operating in the state,” he said. “Unlike gas stations, you won’t need fuel cell stations on every corner.”