TOYOTA will start selling its first fuel-cell car this financial year, with a price tag of around $70,000.
The model will begin rolling out by March 2015 in its home market and the environmentally friendly car will be available in the US and Europe soon after.
“Hydrogen is a particularly promising alternative fuel since it can be produced using a wide variety of primary energy sources, including solar and wind power,” the carmaker said in a statement.
Fuel-cell cars are seen as the Holy Grail of green cars as they are powered by a chemical reaction of hydrogen and oxygen, which produces nothing more harmful than water.
Toyota’s fuel-cell sedan can travel about 700 kilometers without refueling, about three times further than an electric car, and it only takes three minutes to refuel, similar to a gasoline engine car, Toyota said.
The company, while not abandoning electric altogether, sees the fuel-cell as the next logical step after its big, early success with the Prius gas-electric hybrid, which has sold about 3.7 million units since its launch in the late ’90s.
“Hydrogen does not emit CO2 so it could be a key player to realize a low-carbon society. It can be produced with fossil fuel such as natural gas, and even with sludge accumulated in the sewage system,” said Toyota Vice President Mitsuhisa Kato. “We believe hydrogen could become a very important source of energy in the future.”
This is the first time Toyota has given a specific timeframe for its fuel-cell cars, which it had previously said would go on the market in 2015.
Toyota’s announcement came a day after Japan’s industry ministry said the government will strongly support the hydrogen and fuel-cell sector in a “strategic roadmap.”
While carmakers expect eventual government subsidies to make fuel-cell vehicles more accessible for general drivers, Toyota’s price tag is also a nice surprise for potential customers—it had been widely expected that a fuel-cell vehicle would be expensive.
But many hurdles still need to be overcome before fuel-cell vehicles become a common sight on roads, most notably, the network of hydrogen refueling stations, Toyota said.
The Japanese government has also said it will try to make hydrogen available at a price similar to or less than gasoline fuel, while increasing the number of hydrogen refueling stations to about 100 next year.
Toyota said it will initially start selling the model only in the regions “where hydrogen refueling infrastructure is being developed.”
The price ranges for a fuel-cell car for the US and European markets have not been decided, Toyota said.