The past few years car companies have been increasingly switching their attention away from fossil fuels and towards electric battery-powered cars. And rightly so. But hiding away in the shadows are cars powered by hydrogen. Some might consider them dead, thanks to the rise in electric popularity, but Toyota's new concepts means there's still life in the idea.
The car maker will have two concept vehicles on show at the Tokyo Motor Show next week: the Fine-Comfort Ride car and Sora bus. Both are powered by electricity, but they use Hydrogen as the fuel source rather than a large rechargeable battery.
The Fine-Comfort Ride car is a six-seater, and as the name suggests it looks pretty luxurious inside. It's amazing how much nicer concept cars can be than their mass-produced counterparts. It features a diamond-shaped interior design, which maximises space for the front four seats while maintaining an aerodynamic design. It also has in-wheel motors for smooth and quieter running, an 'agent function' (which I assume is a virtual assistant like Siri or Alexa), touch controls, and adjustable seating for a more comfortable individual experience. Range is around 600 miles.
As I said, it's a very luxurious looking vehicle, and it's not going to be representative of any hydrogen cars Toyota might produce for everyday people. Still it's nice to see, and that 600 mile range is pretty incredible.
The Sora bus (an acronym of Sky, Ocean, River, and Air, after the water cycle) is actually a preview model that will be getting commercially produced next year. Toyota plans to put 100 of these buses into service, with he majority of them in Tokyo ready for the 2020 Olympic games. As you can see below the insides don't actually look that different to a regular buses we use now, though Toyota has built it to emphasise passenger comfort.
The Sora is powered by the Toyota Fuel Cell System, and in addition to powering the bus itself that fuel cell can be used as an emergency power source. That makes it extra useful should it be needed for a relief effort in the aftermath of a natural disaster. It also has various hi tech features that prevent lurches when it shifts gear, a control function to suppress sudden acceleration, and automatic arrival control to ensure it arrives no more than 10cm away from a bus stop and three to six centimetres away from the pavement.
There is one big problem with hydrogen, and that's down to the fact fuelling stations need to be more commonplace before it has a hope of kicking off. But without cars on the road it's not really worth investing in that infrastructure, which is a shitty cycle of stagnation. At least the buses are going into production, however limited it may be, so Toyota clearly has a plan to keep them going throughout the Olympics.
At the same time, though, hydrogen vehicles are a lot more similar to fossil fuel-powered cars we have now, in that you fill up a tank of fuel that undergoes a chemical reaction that powers the car. There are no recharge times to worry about, just fill up the tank and be on your way. Plus hydrogen is free of all the nasty emissions and pollution, since the only byproduct of its use as fuel is water.