Hydrogen as a fuel source may only be in its infancy compared to fossil fuels, but Toyota Australia is keen to start a conversation with politicians and regulators to enable its use in the future.
That’s the word from Toyota Australia President, Dave Buttner, who spoke with TMR during a press event for the Toyota Mirai - Toyota’s first production hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, visiting Australia briefly this month.
To be showcased as a part of the World Hydrogen Technology Convention in Sydney on the 12th and 14th of October, the Mirai will also be used to demonstrate the potential of fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) to key stakeholders to determine the fuel’s future.
With no refuelling infrastructure in place in Australia there are no immediate plans to introduce the Mirai to this market just yet, but Mr Buttner gave strong clues as to how FCVs could gain a foothold in this market.
“If you started with the commercial vehicle sector, where those vehicles go back to a depot each night, the initial infrastructure wouldn’t be as great as if you were trying to satisfy every private consumer.” Mr Buttner explained
“Maybe that’s the appropriate place to start the conversation about rolling the technology and infrastructure out, so that private buyers can then take advantage of it as well.”
The commercial vehicle opportunity is a sentiment backed up by Mark Dobson, head of product planning for Toyota Australia:
“One of the key things that we’re talking about in Australia in terms of the way we’d like to adopt this, is that we see this advantage in commercial vehicles.” Mr Dobson said.
“Companies like Australia Post or Telstra, their fleet of vans come back to a central depot, so they really only need one refuelling station, even if they have 300 cars.”
While the Mirai is Toyota’s first production FCV, it's far from Toyota’s first foray into hydrogen fuelled technology. Development of fuel cell vehicles stretches back to 1992, and previous powertrain trials have been fitted to the body of the Kluger SUV.
While Mirai is the sole FCV currently available, a more work-focussed range of commercial vehicles could offer real growth potential for Toyota, particularly with its strength in the light commercial sector in this country
Instead of launching a passenger car to customers with limited refuelling opportunities, like Tesla and its Supercharger network, Toyota envisions providing the vehicle and the required fuel stations to large fleets, and watching the infrastructure build itself outside of those situations as demand grows.
“Big companies with commercial fleets have quite a big advantage with that, and you don’t have to set up a big infrastructure to start with.” Mr Dobson said
“Just one refuelling station at a local depot, as opposed to trying to get it from a public point of view, where you need so many more refuelling stations.”
Mr Buttner also suggested that as a way of speeding up the refuelling rollout, Toyota could pair itself with a fuel retailer in the future.
“To ensure this technology gets adopted as quickly as possible, for customers and for the environment, that may mean a whole host of different engagements that you hadn’t thought about in the past.” He said.
In Japan, where the Mirai has been available since 2014, the government has pledged to build 100 refuelling stations by March 2016. In the US, where the Mirai is about to launch, 10 refuelling points currently exist.