Toyota Led on Clear Vehicles. Now Critics Say It Works to Delay Them.

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On paper, Toyota’s approach to emission-free vehicles, the hydrogen fuel cell, is a dream: unlike battery-powered electric vehicles, these cars carry hydrogen tanks and fuel cells that convert the hydrogen into electricity. They refuel and accelerate quickly and can travel hundreds of miles on one tank and only give off water vapor. And hydrogen is theoretically abundant.

But a high sticker price and a lack of fueling infrastructure have hampered the growth of a hydrogen economy, at least for cars.

But Toyota has only sold about 11,000 of its Mirai fuel cell cars since the vehicle was launched in 2014. Another hydrogen pioneer, Honda, recently said it would scrap its hydrogen model. Many analysts say that hydrogen technology is more suitable for long-haul trucks or for use in energy-intensive industries like steelmaking.

“I think hydrogen looks promising, but it is currently at least a decade behind batteries,” said David Friedman, vice president of advocacy for Consumer Reports and former acting administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “And Toyota says, ‘No, we have to wait, we have to wait until they finish hydrogen.’ But the climate cannot wait. “

Toyota also argues that hybrid technology – that is, vehicles powered by an internal combustion engine and an electric motor – is an easy first step towards all-electric cars and could help get more people into cleaner cars, faster, until hydrogen spreads. Toyota has also invested heavily in hybrid technology. The company has outlined a vision for a hybrid-dominated product range by 2050 – much later than many analysts say that new cars must be zero-emission.

Toyota does not currently sell electric vehicles in major markets outside of China, but announced in April that it would sell 15 battery electric models globally by 2025, part of a wider range of 70 battery electric, hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. .