Toyota wants a bulletproof fuel-cell entry

Bob Carter, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. senior vice president for automotive operations, says “If others want to tune out [fuel-cell] technology, that's fine.” Photo credit: JOE WILSSENS

DETROIT -- Toyota is ready to take some flak when it plunges into mass-market hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles next year.


Vehicle r&d engineers recently satisfied their worries about the new technology's durability by firing a small-caliber gun at the two carbon-fiber tanks that will contain the fuel, says Bob Carter, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. senior vice president for automotive operations.

The bullets bounced off, he told an audience at the Automotive News World Congress on Tuesday.

The engineers then stepped up to more firepower, shooting a .50-caliber gun into the fuel tanks. Those bullets just barely dented the tanks.

"We wanted to know what it takes to actually pierce them," Carter said after his presentation. "It's just one of thousand different tests we're conducting to ensure the durability of the vehicles. We want to be absolutely sure of the integrity of the systems."

Toyota displayed the FCV Concept fuel cell vehicle this week at the Detroit auto show, and announced that it will begin selling the cars next year. Toyota has not yet officially release the vehicle's sticker price.

Carter says Toyota will overcome industry naysayers, just as it overcame early critics of hybrid technology.

He recalled that the Toyota Prius was dismissed as a PR gimmick, but noted, "We're approaching 6 million hybrid sales worldwide.

"If others want to tune out this technology, that's fine," he said of fuel-cell technology critics.

"I realize that there is no shortage of naysayers regarding the viability of this technology and the infrastructure to support it." Notable among them have been Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk and Volkswagen of America CEO Jonathan Browning.

"Personally," the Toyota executive declared, "I don't really care what Elon and Carlos and Jonathan have to say about fuel cells."

Carter said that Toyota has also satisfied itself on what happens to hydrogen in the event of a tank rupture. He reports that the fuel rapidly dissipates as a gas, emptying the tanks at a flow rate equal to 40 mph, rather than standing in a pool as gasoline does.

You can reach Lindsay Chappell at lchappell@crain.com



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