The constant balancing act between innovation and conservation is a simple fact of life. In today’s world, nowhere is that perpetual head-scratcher more keenly felt than on our roads. Since the early days of eccentric battery powered oddities, through the era of the Prius-driving ‘eco-conscious’ celebrities, green motoring has finally evolved into a genuine main-stream money maker. The obvious potential to cash in has prompted almost every major manufacturer worldwide to dip their feet into the pond of environmentally friendly motoring in recent times. What we do know now, something that remained unclear 15 years ago, is that hybrid and electric vehicles, or EVs, have come to dominate this portion of the market. However, one of the names at the very forefront of the green revolution, Toyota, far from putting all of their eggs into the EV basket, have instead been quietly exploring the possibilities of a second energy source; hydrogen power.
Modern hydrogen fuel cell cars are actually nothing new and have been around for about as long as their EV counterparts. Toyota have been in the business for at least 20 years and in 2002 actually brought a production example, the memorably-named FCHV SUV, to US and Japanese customers on a limited basis. However, as electric hybrids and EVs became better developed and more efficient over the years that followed, hydrogen power projects were nudged away to a quiet corner of the workshop and fell gradually out of the public eye.
Until now, that is. First glimpsed at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show, Toyota have finally revealed more significant details of what will be the only hydrogen fuel cell car available for commercial sale in the world. On the design front, this four door saloon, for now christened simply the Toyota Fuel Cell Sedan, is unlikely to be winning any beauty contests. Its lumpy styling is strangely reminiscent of the widely panned early Prius efforts from Toyota. Hybrids and EVs have slowly shed the ugly duckling tag to blend in seamlessly with any other car on the road these days but the same can’t be said for this hydrogen-powered equivalent.
Nevertheless, in the grand scheme of things, design is superfluous when you consider the real crux of the issue here. The Fuel Cell Sedan boasts performance and range similar to that of a petrol-engined car and refueling takes roughly three minutes, a major plus point over EV competitors. Naturally, being several years behind its electric counterparts in development terms, hydrogen refueling infrastructure is decidedly lacking in most countries. However, in Japan, where the Fuel Cell Sedan will first be rolled out before next April, the groundwork for a refueling network is already in place.