CHICAGO AUTO SHOW

Toyota: Fuel cell math is right

Carter: It's about location.
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CHICAGO -- Toyota believes just a few hydrogen stations will go a long way toward meeting its needs for launching hydrogen fuel cell vehicles next year in the United States.

A few dozen stations strategically concentrated in California will get fuel cell transportation up and running, says Bob Carter, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. senior vice president of automotive operations.

"Toyota and the University of California collaborated on a model that maps out a specific distribution of refueling stations," Carter told a Chicago Auto Show audience last week. "And we found that in California, where we will initially be going to market our sedan, it will take only about 68 stations to regularly refuel about 10,000 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles."

California has only nine hydrogen refueling stations. And Toyota plans to begin mass-marketing a fuel cell car next year. Hyundai and Honda also want to enter the market. Cost estimates for refueling sites range from less than $1 million to add a hydrogen pump at an existing station to more than $2 million to build a station.

Skeptics have said that a vast infrastructure of California refueling stations will be needed to support Toyota. Carter disagrees.

"You do not need hydrogen at every corner as we find with gasoline today," he says.

"Even if every vehicle in California ran on hydrogen, Carter says, "we could serve the refueling logistics with only 15 percent of the nearly 10,000 gas stations currently operating in the state."

Last year, California approved a plan to pay $20 million a year to build as many as 100 hydrogen fueling stations by 2024. The rollout will add about 20 stations by the end of next year and 40 by the end of 2016, according to the California Fuel Cell Partnership, a public-private association supporting the effort.

Said Carter: "Those numbers might sound small, but our research shows the issue of infrastructure is not about how many, but rather location, location, location."

You can reach Lindsay Chappell at lchappell@crain.com.


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