How much help will it get to sell pricey fuel cell car?

Subsidy question looms over Toyota FCV

How much help will it get to sell pricey fuel cell car?

Toyota FCV
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TOKYO -- A sparse refueling network won't be the only hurdle facing Toyota Motor Corp.'s new hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. A generous dollop of government subsidies will also be necessary for the car, which will hit Japan showrooms by April with a Lexus-topping sticker of ¥7 million -- approximately $69,000.

Incentive uncertainty may make for a dicey business plan. Toyota says it is banking on big green-car subsidies to help sell the Toyota FCV when it arrives in the United States and Europe next summer. But it concedes it has no idea what level of handouts to expect.

In Japan, the top subsidy for electric vehicles is ¥850,000.

Mitsuhisa Kato, executive vice president in charge of r&d, said his company hopes fuel cell incentives will come in higher than that, at least during the car's initial rollout.

In the United States, the company may turn to leasing the car when it goes on sale in California, though details are still under discussion, Kato said. In Japan, the company expects to be able to sell the car by targeting affluent first adopters and opinion leaders, Kato said.

The FCV will have plenty of premium flourishes commensurate with its price. "A ¥7 million car needs to look like a ¥7 million car," Kato said.

He also insisted, "This is not a compliance car," designed just to meet California's zero-emission rules, even though rollouts in other states aren't likely anytime soon. "The states that have appropriate infrastructure are very limited."

As of late last year, there were only 10 public hydrogen fueling stations in the United States. Fuel companies plan to build dozens more by 2015.

California has enacted a law to fund the construction of at least 100 public hydrogen fueling stations by 2024.

Toyota has more than 2,400 patents protecting its fuel cell technology, Kato said. Aspects of the FCV will form the basis for another hydrogen car being developed with BMW by 2020, he added.

Toyota showed the production version's exterior design last week, unveiling an electric-blue vehicle with styling that was toned down only slightly from the dramatically curved concept with gaping front air intakes that debuted at the Tokyo auto show last fall.

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You can reach Hans Greimel at hgreimel@crain.com. -- Follow Hans on Twitter

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