Toyota, after decades of researching hydrogen-fueled vehicles, is moving forward with plans to produce a zero-emission fuel cell semi for North America with truck subsidiary Hino, with a prototype arriving initially in Japan next year.
The global auto giant, which has been testing hydrogen fuel cell big rigs at the Port of Los Angeles the past few years developed with truckmaker Kenworth, said the new vehicles use Hino’s XL Series chassis. The companies also are collaborating on a 25-ton fuel cell electric truck for the Japanese market that goes into testing in the first half of 2021.
“It will be quiet, smooth and powerful while emitting nothing but water,” Tak Yokoo, senior executive engineer for Toyota Research and Development, said in a statement. “Toyota’s 20-plus years of fuel cell technology combined with Hino’s heavy-duty truck experience will create an innovative and capable product.”
The company didn’t provide a timetable for when the truck goes on sale or provide range or performance specifications. The Kenworth trucks it operates in Los Angeles travel more than 200 miles per fueling, and Toyota plans to expand its fleet there to between 10 and 12 of the vehicles by next year. A large-scale hydrogen fuel station is under construction at Toyota’s facility at the Port of Los Angeles.
Toyota’s plan, like Daimler’s recent push into hydrogen trucks, comes as fast-moving startup Nikola, which similarly seeks to lead in the nascent market for fuel cell trucks, seeks to reassure investors and customers it can deliver clean, futuristic commercial vehicles and hydrogen fuel stations the company has promised, despite accusations of fraud in a scathing critique by an analyst with a short position in its shares. Trevor Milton, Nikola’s founder and the target of the Hindenburg Research report, resigned from the company in September, and the current CEO and chairman say they intend to stick to their go-to-market plan.
Toyota sells Mirai fuel cell cars to consumers in California, Japan and a handful of international markets, but hydrogen’s promise as a transportation fuel has shifted from cars to heavy-duty vehicles, particularly long-haul trucks. That’s because hydrogen fuel cell powertrains don’t add as much weight as battery systems (which reduces hauling capability) and can be refueled much more rapidly than multi-ton lithium-ion packs can be recharged.
A push by California, the EU, Japan and other key markets to cut carbon emissions from cars and trucks is contributing to development of both battery- and hydrogen-fueled vehicles that may be widely available in the second half of the 2020s.
Hydrogen fuel cells, which make electricity on demand with only water as a by-product, have been touted as a clean vehicle option for decades, though high costs, durability and a lack of hydrogen fuel stations have limited their appeal relative to battery-powered electric models. And while Elon Musk has harshly criticized hydrogen “fool cells” for years, grousing about their inefficiency relative to batteries, Toyota, Hyundai Motor, engine maker Cummins
, Daimler and its tech partner, Volvo Trucks, are all moving to commercialize hydrogen big rigs.
Separately, Hino is also partnering with Los Angeles-based startup Xos Trucks to make battery-powered semis.
“Vehicles from Hino will be outfitted with our proprietary battery technology, the X-Pack, a modular battery pack system built from the cell-level up that operates as an intelligent stand-alone unit,” Jose Castaneda, Xos’ vice president of business development, said in a blog post Monday. “Our trucks have numerous benefits that make them more efficient for long-haul applications than combustion engines, including a lower cost of ownership, easier maintenance and remote diagnostics, provided by us, which give fleet operators real-time visibility into the performance of their Xos fleet.”
Xos didn’t include financial terms of the Hino project in its post.