YOKOHAMA, Japan -- Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles confront the classic chicken-and-egg dilemma. There is low demand for the cars because there are so few hydrogen fueling stations. Yet there is low demand for fueling stations because there are so few cars.
Now Toyota Motor Corp. is turning to an unlikely four-wheeler to jump-start demand for the fuel. The vehicle: a forklift.
This year, Toyota and a consortium of other companies will begin a pilot project that harnesses wind power to generate hydrogen for a small fleet of fuel cell forklifts that will shuttle vegetables, beer and other goods around a wholesale market and other businesses on the Tokyo Bay waterfront.
The goals are twofold:
1. To create and test a low-carbon supply chain for generating and distributing hydrogen.
2. To spur a fueling infrastructure by expanding the number of vehicles needing one.
The results are expected to have knock-on effects for Toyota's efforts to roll out more fuel cell passenger vehicles such as the Mirai sedan that was launched here in December 2014.
By deploying fleets of fuel cell forklifts and other industrial vehicles, such as those that tow planes at airports, Toyota aims simultaneously to drive down costs of making pricey fuel cell powertrain components and to lift demand for fueling stations.
Shigeki Tomoyama, senior managing officer in charge of Toyota's Business Development Group, projected there could be as many as 100,000 of those fuel cell-powered industrial vehicles in use by 2030.
"Economies of scale can be achieved this way," he said at an event here launching the initial fleet of 12 fuel cell forklifts. "Fuel cell [passenger] vehicles alone can't stimulate the market. That's why we need to expand to industrial use."