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Even amid the huge effort now underway to gain market share with new and coming battery electric vehicles, automakers show a continuing interest in keeping the potential of hydrogen vehicles alive. Indeed, the most high-profile players in this space are taking the next steps toward normalizing the way we look at zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, models that drive on electricity generated by an electrochemical reaction of hydrogen and oxygen.

One of the advantages of a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle has been its ability to refuel in five minutes and then deliver 300 or more miles of driving range. That’s about the same amount of time it takes to fill a gas tank, an important baseline. Electric vehicle batteries, on the other hand, typically take many hours to charge. Today’s electric vehicle fast-charging, and the potential for newly-developed extreme fast charging (XFC) technology, could diminish the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle’s rapid refueling advantage.

Still, high-profile players in the auto industry like Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota apparently feel strongly that hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) may play an important part in our driving future. Honda currently leases the Clarity Fuel Cell sedan to California residents living or working in areas where hydrogen fueling stations are available. Hyundai also offers its NEXO hydrogen fuel cell crossover model and Toyota its Mirai fuel cell sedan. Since there are only 47 hydrogen stations in the U.S. with 42 of these in California, it’s really no surprise that all three automakers focus their fuel cell vehicle sales exclusively to limited areas with hydrogen fueling.

Underscoring hydrogen’s continuing momentum, Toyota will shortly release its second generation Mirai sedan. Introduced five years ago as the first fuel cell model offered for sale to retail customers, Toyota’s current Mirai is as notable for its styling as it is for its advanced zero-emission propulsion. Its swoopy, angular, and stylistically forward design does speak ‘future” – which, by the way, is what ‘Mirai’ actually means in Japanese – but that design has been a bit too much for most folks’ taste. The coming, all-new 2021 Mirai changes all that.

As shown by the new model’s concept, the second-generation Mirai is nicely sculpted with smooth-flowing lines, presenting as a stylish mainstream sedan with coupe-like design influences. Evolving from the front-drive first-generation Mirai, it uses a new rear-drive platform with a more rigid body structure that’s longer, lower, and wider than its predecessor, riding on a 114.9-inch wheelbase and featuring a length of 195.8-inches with a 74.2-inch width.

This new design is accompanied by a reimagined interior that’s more spacious and now allows for five passenger seating rather than four. Its multimedia system includes navigation and dynamic audio provided by a JBL sound system with 14 speakers. The Mirai’s handsomely sculpted dash features a 12.3-inch, high resolution TFT touchscreen. Drivetrain advancements are also part of the package. While full details have not yet been disclosed, the 2021 Mirai is expected to feature a more advanced fuel cell system featuring increased performance and up to 30 percent greater driving range. Like the model before it, the new Mirai is capable of filling up its hydrogen tank in just five minutes.

Beyond light-duty vehicles, where hydrogen could become a major transportation fuel is in over-the-road trucks that travel fixed routes, where hydrogen refueling stations are available. While adding larger and heavier batteries to increase the range of personal-use electric vehicles is not a big problem, every pound of battery capacity added to increase the range of commercial trucks means a pound less of payload, impacting the bottom line. Thus, fuel cells could prove to have a large advantage over electric trucks and be appealing in the commercial world.

While adding larger and heavier batteries to increase the range of personal-use electric vehicles is not a big problem, every pound of battery capacity added to increase the range of commercial trucks means a pound less of payload, impacting the bottom line. Thus, fuel cells could prove to have a large advantage over electric trucks and be appealing in the commercial world.

Supporting this notion is Anheuser-Busch, which has ordered up to 800 Nikola Two hydrogen fuel cell semi-tractor trucks for its operations. Two prototypes are already delivering Budweiser beer. On another front, Hyundai and big-rig producer Cummins may jointly develop and commercialize fuel cell powertrains by combining Hyundai’s fuel cell systems with Cummins’ electric powertrain, battery, and control technologies. Toyota and Kenworth are building 10 fuel cell semi tractors for use in and around the Port of Los Angeles and Port Heuneme, California, where decreasing port-related emissions is a significant challenge.

Where is this all leading? Toward the future, of course…one that continues to evolve with an as-yet unknown mix of conventional, electrified, and alternative fuel vehicles being developed by legacy and newly-launched auto and truck manufacturers. Each has its own vision of what our driving future will look like. Time will tell what role hydrogen will play in this unfolding transportation world.

The Toyota Highlander family-size, three row SUV is a new, fourth generation model based on Toyota’s New Global Architecture (TNGA-K). It's available in both gasoline and hybrid versions. The highly-efficient hybrid edition is available in front- or all-wheel-drive and in LE, XLE, Limited, and Platinum trim levels.

Highlander Hybrid uses a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder DOHC engine and a pair of electric motors to deliver a total system output of 240 horsepower. The rear-mounted electric motor distributes torque to the rear wheels when slip is detected, while the all-wheel version uses this same motor to drive the rear axle. Normal, Sport, and Eco drive modes can be selected.

A sequential shifting switch controls regenerative braking to allow ‘downshifting’ in steps to maximize regen efficiency. Information from the navigation system anticipate traffic conditions ahead, enabling the Highlander Hybrid to coast longer distances when the driver’s foot is off the throttle.

New computer integration and a smaller, lighter power stack installed directly above the transaxle reduces energy transmission losses. The battery pack is installed under the rear seats without compromising cargo or passenger space. Highlander Hybrid's Predictive Efficient Drive system analyzes a driver’s habits, routes, and road conditions, then uses this data to charge and discharge the battery most efficiently.

Toyota expects the Highlander Hybrid to deliver a combined EPA fuel efficiency rating in the mid-30s, a significant efficiency bump up from the 29 combined mpg rating for the previous generation’s AWD version.

The Highlander Hybrid's standard Safety Sense 2.0 suite of active safety systems includes adaptive cruise control, lane-departure alert with steering assist, automatic high-beams, and pre-collision with pedestrian detection. Two new features are lane-tracing assist and road sign assist.  Lane-tracing assist recognizes lane strips to keep the SUV centered in its lane, while road sign assist recognizes road signs and notifies the driver to pay attention via visual or audible alerts. Blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and automated parking with brake assistance are available depending on the trim level.

All trim levels get Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Alexa, along with Waze, Wi-Fi, and Sirius XM. Infotainment is controlled on a standard 8.0-inch touchscreen, while the Platinum trim has a 12.3-inch screen. Starting price for the Highlander Hybrid is just over $38,000.

battery-recyclingSo what to do with old electric vehicle batteries? Here’s one approach: Toyota and Chubu Electric Power Co. will be constructing a large-capacity storage battery system that reuses recycled batteries from Toyota electric vehicles. This aims at addressing two key issues. It deals with ways to make use of aging EV batteries that have reached the end of their useful life for vehicle propulsion, while also enabling Chubu Electric to mitigate the effects of fluctuations in the utility’s energy supply-demand balance, a growing issue caused by the expanding use of renewable energy.

Initially, the focus will be on repurposing nickel-metal-hydride (Ni-MH) batteries since these have been used in large numbers of electric vehicles for nearly two decades. The focus will then expand to include lithium-ion (Li-Ion) batteries by 2030. Li-Ion batteries have generally powered the second generation of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids in more recent years, and thus will not reach their end-of-use for electric propulsion for some time still.

suppress-voltage-fluctuationThe energy storage capabilities of EV batteries diminish over time and after continuous charging and discharging. Eventually they become insufficient for powering electric cars but can still store adequate energy for other purposes. Even with their diminished performance, combining them in large numbers makes them useful for utilities and their efforts to manage energy supply-demand.

Based on the results of their initial work, the plan is to provide power generation capacity of some 10,000 kW by 2020. In a related effort, Toyota and Chubu Electric will be exploring ways to ultimately recycle reused batteries by collecting and reusing their rare-earth metals. The automaker has explored battery recycling in the past including at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch field campus in Yellowstone National Park. Here, 208 used Toyota Camry Hybrid battery packs are used to store renewable electricity generated by solar panel arrays.

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2018-toyota-camry-hybrid-driving-1Green Car Journal recently experienced driving what Toyota proudly says is its greatest Camry Hybrid achievement to date. The rather posh, redesigned Camry Hybrid approaches the combined fuel efficiency of Toyota’s Prius, with the Camry HV LE + achieving 53 highway and 51 city mpg while comfortably seating five adults. Yet, there’s much more to this efficient Camry model than initially meets the eye. Hybrid or not, this variant arguably delivers the best overall drive and ride experience in the 2018 Toyota Camry lineup.

In today’s highly scrutinized auto market, nothing is more important to the successful launch of a new car than its visual first impression, followed by a satisfying walk-around and driving experience. Toyota’s all-new 2018 Camry Hybrid accomplishes all these, presenting a very refined and well-designed package with an intuitive driver-to-car interface, enveloped in a sporty body design that rivals many European offerings. Happily, it’s also a kick to drive!

2018-toyota-camry-hybrid-cabin-1Comfortable, Refined, and Tech-Rich

During our recent test drive, the Camry was virtually silent as we exited the driveway in electric-only mode, exhibiting that quiet, electric-only drive characteristic that some modern hybrids do so well. This is one of them. As the Camry’s four-cylinder gasoline engine kicked in, we pushed the accelerator aggressively and launched onto the two-lane, finding the combined gasoline-electric horsepower and torque impressive, and the interior quiet.

The 2018 Camry Hybrid produces impressive combined torque and horsepower while sipping gasoline, thus reducing emissions. Its drivetrain technology is borrowed from the Prius and does an excellent job of presenting V-6-like torque while achieving four-cylinder fuel efficiency

2018-toyota-camry-hybrid-rear-1Featuring MacPherson struts up front with a redesigned and much-improved double wishbone suspension at the rear, this four-door, five-place sedan is quick off the line and handles with the best of the segment.

One forgets it’s a hybrid being driven within minutes of taking the wheel. In fact, having just exited the 306 horsepower Camry XLE moments earlier, Toyota’s mainstream hybrid sedan surprisingly delivers just as dynamic a driving experience as the high-output V-6 XLE.

2018-toyota-camry-hybrid-display-1Great Attention to Detail, Performance, and Price

Acceleration is seamless thanks to the Camry Hybrid’s redesigned, electronically-controlled continuously variable transmission (ECVT). Sequential shift mode allows for a select-shift feel, plus there’s a choice of four drive modes to tailor the driving experience. Braking and steering provide a natural feeling. We like the feel of the hybrid thanks to a lower center of gravity facilitated by positioning the Camry Hybrid’s higher density, compact battery module below the second row seat. This battery placement does not impede the function of the Camry’s 40/60 split and fold-down rear seat, affording unobstructed access to a rather spacious and well-finished trunk, a first for hybrids of this type in the auto industry.

From where we sit, Toyota borrowed a design cue or two from its upscale Lexus brethren, sized it down a tad, and injected it into the most visually-dynamic Camry offering to date. In the case of the 2018 Camry Hybrid, at a base MSRP of $27,800 you get a car that drives as good as it looks. Kudos to Toyota since that's not an easy accomplishment in the bread-and-butter mid-size car segment that’s historically driven by cost effective, price-sensitive, and fuel efficient imperatives.

toyota-h2-big-rig-ghostSpace is precious. We buy homes by the square foot, the more square feet in a home, the more expensive the home. Space is so important in a car that if a car manufacturer can find one extra inch of interior room in a car, they will send out a press release. Some companies have put smaller fuel tanks in their cars to give the consumer more interior, or cargo, room. Putting a hydrogen fuel cell in a car takes up a lot of room. Putting a hydrogen fuel cell tank in a big-rig truck makes all the sense in the world.

A quick call to the Port of Los Angeles, California told me that there were somewhere around 20,000 drayage trucks at the port. We did the math and figured out that one drayage truck’s CO2 emissions is equal to 22 units of passenger vehicles. Think about this. If you can change one drayage truck’s emissions it is equal to twenty-two cars worth of emissions! If you change them all, it is like putting 440,000 zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) on the road. On average, a drayage truck’s CO2 emission is 60 tons per year. Any argument you use, the math proves that this is a good idea for reducing emissions.

toyota-h2-big-rig-driving-1To this end, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the Port of Los Angeles will work with Toyota on a feasibility “Project Portal,” a heavy-duty truck project that will begin this summer in the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California. Currently, diesel powered trucks move an average of 19,000 cargo containers in and out of the ports each day. This is precious cargo, retail merchandise that fuels the GDP of America. We will not get rid of trucks, but we can get rid of their emissions. It’s a brilliant application for many reasons.

“As they did with the Prius and the Mirai, Toyota is taking a leap into the future of technology. By bringing this heavy duty, zero emission hydrogen fuel-cell proof of concept truck to the Port, Toyota has planted a flag that we hope many others will follow,” says CARB chairman Mary D. Nichols. “CARB will be following the progress of this feasibility study with interest, as we look to develop the best mix of regulations and incentives to rapidly expand the market for the cleanest, most efficient big trucks to meet the need for dramatic change in the freight sector.”

toyota-h2-big-rig-lead-with-mirai-leadDiesel-fueled drayage trucks are the behind-the-scenes way you get the products you buy from ocean carriers to retail stores. Those same trucks are the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions and one of the highest sources of criteria pollutants (like NOx, SOx and DPM) according to Christopher Cannon, director of environmental management for the Port of Los Angeles, “If we can find ways to continue to reduce emissions from those vehicles as well as lower those vehicles’ carbon footprint, we think we will really accomplish something.”

It’s a long-term well-to-wheels concept. CARB has already legislated that hydrogen has to be partially produced from renewable sources, making the hydrogen fuel used even cleaner.

toyota-h2-big-rig-engineHydrogen is already produced for use in the refinement of oil into gasoline. The beauty of using hydrogen at the port, besides meeting CARB requirements, is that there is plenty of hydrogen in Southern California. Purposefully placing hydrogen filling stations where the fuel cell vehicles reside means there would be less rush to create a hydrogen highway

Toyota used two fuel cell stacks to convert a fully-functioning Kenworth heavy duty truck to run on hydrogen to produce 670 horsepower and 1,325 lb-ft torque. The 12kWh battery is the same battery Toyota uses in its hydrogen fuel cell Mirai sedan. These zero emission vehicles will conduct port drayage operations while emitting nothing but water vapor. Refilling the fuel cell truck with hydrogen takes 20 minutes, and its estimated driving range is more than 200 miles per fill under normal drayage operation.

bob-carter-with-toyota-h2-truck“Toyota believes that hydrogen fuel cell technology has tremendous potential to become the powertrain of the future,” says Toyota Motor North America executive vice president Bob Carter. “From creating one of the world’s first mass-market fuel cell vehicles to introducing fuel cell buses in Japan, Toyota is a leader in expanding the use of versatile and scalable zero-emission technology. With Project Portal, we’re proud to help explore the societal benefits of a true zero-emission heavy-duty truck platform.”

Project Portal is just one part of Toyota’s ongoing commitments to fuel cell technology and the potential of a hydrogen society. It follows the company’s continued work to expand California’s hydrogen refueling infrastructure, including the recently announced partnership with Shell to increase the number of hydrogen refueling stations in the state.

toyota-h2-big-rig-h2-only“Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles play a role in California’s efforts to achieve greenhouse gas emission reduction goals, improve air quality, and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels,” says Janea A. Scott, commissioner of the California Energy Commission. “That’s why the California Energy Commission is investing in the refueling infrastructure needed to support adoption of these vehicles. The Commission applauds Toyota for putting this cutting-edge technology to use in a heavy-duty freight proof of concept. This demo will show how fuel cells can help support the heavy-duty sector’s efforts to increase efficiency, a transition to zero-emission technologies, and increase competitiveness.”

2016-rav4-hybrid-rear-viewThe Toyota RAV4 that emerged an all-new generation SUV in 2013 features a stylish refresh this year with a bolder front fascia, restyled bumpers, and sharper rocker panels. That’s not the big news for 2016, though, because the RAV4 now features an important new addition – the first-ever hybrid powertrain in the RAV4.

While an all-electric RAV4 variant developed with Tesla had previously been offered in limited numbers and markets beginning in 2012 and an earlier generation RAV4 EV was offered in small numbers in the late 1990s, this is a very different scenario. Toyota has priced the RAV4 Hybrid base price aggressively at $28,370 and expects it to represent about 10 to 15 percent of all 2016 RAV4 models sold.

2016-rav4-hybrid-energy-monitorToyota's two-motor Hybrid Synergy Drive system is used in the 2016 RAV4 Hybrid, the same as in the Lexus NX 300h hybrid crossover. In this application the RAV4 Hybrid comes with Electronic On-Demand AWD-I, making all-wheel-drive standard in the model. Fuel efficiency is rated at 34 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway. Driving range is just over 480 miles.

The RAV4 Hybrid integrates a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle 4-cylinder gasoline engine and 141 horsepower electric motor to drive the front wheels. A 67 horsepower electric motor provides torque to the rear wheels when the vehicle’s control system senses power is needed. Electrical energy is provided by a nickel-metal-hydride battery pack. An electronically controlled continuously variable transmission is used. Several operating modes are provided. ECO mode favors fuel economy by optimizing throttle response and air conditioning output. EV mode allows the RAV4 Hybrid to run solely on battery power for about a half-mile while traveling below 25 mph.

2016-toyota-rav4-hybrid-limited-dashInside, more premium features are used this year including soft-touch materials on the dash and door panels and a leather steering wheel. A 4.2-inch TFT multi-information display is included in a revised gauge cluster. The five passenger crossover offers ample room for five adults plus 38.4 cubic feet of cargo capacity behind the rear seats, expanding to 73.4 cubic feet with the 60/40 split rear seats folded. Rear-passenger knee room is enhanced with front seats that feature a slim seat back. The rear seatbacks also recline several degrees for added passenger comfort.

The RAV4 Hybrid is one of the first U.S. models to offer Toyota Safety Sense (TSS), a new multi-feature safety system that includes forward collision warning and automatic pre-collision braking. There is also lane-departure alert, radar-based adaptive cruise control, pedestrian pre-collision warning, and automatic high beams. A new Bird's Eye View Monitor with Perimeter Scan provides a live rotating 360-degree view of the surroundings on a 7-inch touchscreen using four cameras mounted on the front, side mirrors, and rear of the car. Limited models include blind-spot monitors with cross-traffic alerts as well.

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toyota-fcvToyota has unveiled its hydrogen fuel cell vehicle that will be available for sale to California customers in summer 2015. The Toyota FCV four-door sedan is forward-looking with its blending of traditional sleek styling and aggressive futuristic exterior touches.

This is quite a departure from the Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell now on sale in California that packages hydrogen fuel cell power within a conventional-looking Tucson SUV. Honda took a more middle-of-the-road approach with its FCX Clarity fuel cell sedan that it began leasing to limited numbers of California customers in 2008, offering an advanced body design that, while not necessarily wildly futuristic, did preview many of the styling cues that would show up in Honda’s model lineup in future years.

toyota-fcv-rearLike its fuel cell competitors, the Toyota FCV is driven by electric motors powered by electricity electrochemically generated by a hydrogen fuel cell. Since there is no combustion, no CO2 is produced and the car emits only water vapor. The Toyota FCV is expected to travel 300 miles on a tank of hydrogen, providing the advantages of an electric car without the limitations of short driving range. Refueling is said to take less than five minutes.

While hydrogen fueling opportunities are admittedly sparse these days, Toyota is working toward a solution in California through its partnership with FirstElement Fuels. The aim is to support the long-term operation and maintenance of 19 new hydrogen refueling stations in that state, accessible by all model fuel cell vehicles. The availability of hydrogen fueling will determine where automakers initially offer their first fuel cell vehicles, thus the interest in California.