Hydrogen-powered car is step by Toyota toward ‘revolution’
THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN
EUGENE HOSHIKO/ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTOS Toyota unveiled its Mirai fuel-cell vehicle last week; sales of the company’s first hydrogen-powered vehicle begin on Dec. 15. While Japan pursues the technology, Europe bets on electric
TOKYO — In the science-fiction novel The Mysterious Island, written about 140 years ago by French author Jules Verne, one of the main characters says: “I believe that water will one day be employed as fuel, that hydrogen and oxygen which constitute it, used singly or together, will furnish an inexhaustible source of heat and light, of an intensity of which coal is not capable. … Water will be the coal of the future.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe cited this passage in a speech at a seminar at the Kyoto International Conference Center in October. “Verne’s dream is becoming a reality in Japan,” Abe said.
On Dec. 15, Toyota’s Mirai, its first fuel-cell vehicle, will go on sale. The vehicle runs on hydrogen.
Japan’s public and private sectors have been working together to achieve a “hydrogen society,” in which hydrogen becomes a major energy source. By contrast, many nations in Europe, a region at the forefront of environmental conservation efforts, have been placing their eggs in the electric-vehicle basket.
Toyota expects to sell only 700 Mirais globally in the first year.
In May 2013, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a conference of industry officials, “You have a chancellor who believes in electromobility.”
Merkel has set a target of having 1 million electric vehicles on German roads by 2020. As of June this year, just 20,000 such vehicles had been sold there, although charging stations are being built throughout major cities.
One vocal skeptic about fuel-cell cars is Elon Musk, the chief executive officer of Tesla Motors, a major U.S. maker of electric vehicles. Musk said in Tokyo in September that developing fuel-cell vehicles is not a worthwhile path, as they have no chance of winning against other eco-cars. Massive amounts of energy are required to create hydrogen, which is also difficult to store and transport, he said.
If electric vehicles could be powered by electricity generated through solar and wind power, they would effectively produce no greenhouse-gas emissions. That is the argument of advocates who believe electric vehicles are preferable when it comes to tackling global warming.
At this stage, it is impossible to predict whether electric or fuel-cell vehicles will be the next-generation mainstream vehicle.
Almost 90 million new vehicles are sold around the world in a year. Toyota sells about 1.2 million hybrid vehicles annually, but it took 10 years before its cumulative sales of hybrids reached 1 million.
Slightly more than a century has passed since the Ford Model T went on sale in 1908 and made automobiles available for the mass market. Can Toyota’s Mirai lead to a major conversion in a vehicle culture that has been built on fossil fuels?
Toyota President Akio Toyoda believes so.
“This car isn’t merely a new kind of vehicle. It’s the first step toward a revolution,” he said.
“Toyota exists to create revolution.”
(Just wondering what the financial picture is like on this vehicle. . .should we start dreaming, or forget about it? Also, what about “fueling up”? How is this done? Are there stations around with which to satisfy the car’s needs? Or do we have to do this on our at home? Many considerations. . . much to think about, but the possibilities are huge and exciting. Jan)