Toyota cranks up investment in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles

The Mirai’s high production costs are largely due to expensive materials including platinum, titanium and carbon fiber used in the fuel cell and hydrogen storage systems. (Reuters)
Updated 26 July 2018

Toyota cranks up investment in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles

  • It is hoping it can prove wrong rival automakers and industry experts who have mostly dismissed such plans as commercially unviable
  • The Mirai was the world’s first production hydrogen fuel cell vehicle when it was launched in 2014

TOYOTA CITY: Toyota Motor Corp. is doubling down on its investment in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, designing lower-cost, mass-market passenger cars and SUVs and pushing the technology into buses and trucks to build economies of scale.
As Toyota cranks up improvements for the next generation of its Mirai hydrogen fuel cell vehicle (FCV), expected in the early 2020s, it is hoping it can prove wrong rival automakers and industry experts who have mostly dismissed such plans as commercially unviable.
The maker of the Prius, the world’s first mass-produced “eco-friendly” gasoline-hybrid car in the 1990s, says it can popularize FCVs in part by making them cheaper.
“We’re going to shift from limited production to mass production, reduce the amount of expensive materials like platinum used in FCV components, and make the system more compact and powerful,” Yoshikazu Tanaka, chief engineer of the Mirai, said in an interview with Reuters.
It is planning a phased introduction of other FCV models, including a range of SUVs, pick-up trucks, and commercial trucks beginning around 2025, a source with knowledge of the automaker’s plans said.
The automaker declined to comment on specific future product plans. But it has developed FCV prototypes of small delivery vehicles and large transport trucks based on models already on the road, as Tesla Inc. develops a battery-operated commercial semi-truck from the ground up.
“We’re going to use as many parts from existing passenger cars and other models as possible in fuel cell trucks,” said Ikuo Ota, manager of new business planning for fuel cell projects at Toyota. “Otherwise, we won’t see the benefits of mass production.”
The company is also betting on improved performance. Toyota wants to push the driving range of the next Mirai to 700-750 kilometers from around 500 kilometers, and to hit 1,000 kilometers by 2025, a separate source said.
Driven by the belief that hydrogen will become a key source of clean energy in the next 100 years, Toyota has been developing FCVs since the early 1990s.
Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe and stores more energy than a battery of equivalent weight.
The Mirai was the world’s first production FCV when it was launched in 2014. But its high cost, around $60,000 before government incentives, and lack of refueling infrastructure have limited its appeal. Fewer than 6,000 have been sold globally.
LMC Automotive forecasts FCVs to make up only 0.2 percent of global passenger car sales in 2027, compared with 11.7 percent for battery EVs. The International Energy Agency predicts fewer FCVs than battery-powered and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles through 2040.
Many automakers, including Nissan Motor Co. and Tesla, see battery-powered cars as a better, zero-emission solution to gasoline engines. Only a handful, including Honda Motor Co. and Hyundai Motor Co, produce FCVs.
But people familiar with Toyota’s plans said the automaker thinks demand will perk up as more countries, including China, warm to fuel cell technology. The company also sees FCVs as a hedge against a scarcity of key EV battery materials such as cobalt.
For now, Mirais are assembled by hand at a plant in Toyota City, where 13 technicians push partially constructed units into assembly bays for detailed inspections. This process yields just 6.5 cars a day, a sliver of Toyota’s average domestic daily production of about 13,400 vehicles.
Strategic Analysis Inc, which has analyzed costs of FCVs including the Mirai, estimates that it costs Toyota about $11,000 to produce each of its fuel cell stacks, by far the vehicles’ most expensive part.
Toyota has been building up production capacity to change that, as it expects global FCV sales climb to 30,000 units annually after 2020 from about 3,000. Strategic Analysis estimates that would allow Toyota to reduce costs to about $8,000 per stack.
It has already begun to use parts developed for the Mirai in other models, such as the fuel cell stack, which is used in Kenworth freight trucks being tested in California, the Sora FC bus it released in Japan in March and the delivery trucks it will test with Seven-Eleven stores in Japan next year.
“It will be difficult for Toyota to lower FCV production costs if it only produces the Mirai,” the first source told Reuters on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue.
“By using the FCV system in larger models, it is looking to lower costs by mass-producing and using common parts across vehicle classes,” he added.
The Mirai’s high production costs are largely due to expensive materials including platinum, titanium and carbon fiber used in the fuel cell and hydrogen storage systems.
Engineers have been reducing that by improving the platinum catalyst, a key component in the 370 layered cells in the fuel cell stack, which facilitates the reaction between hydrogen and oxygen that produces electricity.
“We’ve been able to decrease the platinum loading by 10 percent to 20 percent and deliver the same performance,” said Eri Ichikawa, a fuel cell engineer at Cataler Corp, a Toyota subsidiary that specializes in catalytic converters.
Strategic Analysis says using that much less of the precious metal would save up to $300 per fuel cell stack, based on an estimate that Toyota now uses about 30 grams of platinum per unit.
“By consistently focusing on these issues, we will be able to progressively lower the cost of FCVs in the future,” Tanaka said.


Crown prince highlights key ways Saudi budget 2020 will contribute to Vision 2030

Updated 10 December 2019

Crown prince highlights key ways Saudi budget 2020 will contribute to Vision 2030

  • The budget for the coming year reflects and reinforces the commitment to implement the reforms

RIYADH: After King Salman announced Saudi Arabia’s budget for 2020 on Monday, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman highlighted some of its key elements and their implications, along with his thoughts on the ongoing implementation of economic reforms in the Kingdom.

He said that the government’s economic transformation of the country is progressing steadily in accordance with Vision 2030. The budget for the coming year reflects and reinforces the commitment to implement the reforms, plans and programs designed to help achieve this, he noted, and sets specific goals in a number of areas to help create a vibrant society, a prosperous economy and an ambitious homeland.

The crown prince added that the government is working to improve the quality of life in the Kingdom by developing and diversifying the economy, improving job opportunities and enhancing government services in terms of financial and economic stability, which is the main pillar of sustainable economic growth.

He also pointed out that the economic and structural reforms implemented during the past three years are having positive effects on the country’s financial and economic performance. The Kingdom has recently achieved remarkable increases in real GDP growth rates in the non-oil sector, and the government has encouraged the private sector play an important role in the economy, the positive results of which include significant growth in the business sector, the crown prince added. The government has also implemented a number major projects in vital sectors and launched activities that will help to achieve economic growth goals and create job opportunities, he said.

Crown Prince Mohammed stressed the importance of engaging with the private sector as a major and vital partner for the development of the Kingdom. He also noted the continuing program of reforms by the government designed to develop the business sector and create an attractive environment for investors to contribute to economic growth. This has helped to greatly boost the Kingdom’s ranking on international indexes that measure competitiveness and ease of doing business, he added.

“We aim to create an attractive investment environment that contributes to directing the national economy toward broad prospects of diversification, growth and prosperity,” the crown prince said. “The government will continue to move forward with implementing the stages of economic transformation and will progress with diversifying the economy’s productive base while maintaining financial sustainability and providing wider opportunities for a better future for the current and future generations.”

He stated that the government has a clear vision, fixed goals and explicit plans, and is working on implementing them while maintaining financial and economic stability as an essential pillar of sustainable economic growth.

“Financial and economic results and indicators confirm that we are progressing positively,” he said. “We constantly review and update the policies, procedures and programs implemented to ensure their effectiveness and to rectify their course whenever the need arises, in order to achieve the goals of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, taking into account the global financial and economic conditions and what is in the interest of our homeland and citizens.”

The 2020 Saudi budget has been prepared in light of a global economic atmosphere characterized by challenges, risks and protectionist policies, said Crown Prince Mohammed, which require flexibility in the management of public finances and strengthening the ability of the economy to face the challenges and risks.

“We aim, through this budget, to benefit from the programs that were achieved and rely on them to maintain a balance between economic growth and the sustainable financial stability that guarantees this growth,” he said.

The crown prince noted that financial-control policies and the development of public financial management and its efficiency have contributed to the continued reduction of the budget deficit. This is expected to fall to about 4.7 percent of GDP in 2019, compared with 5.9 percent in 2018 and 9.3 percent in 2017. This confirms the success of ongoing efforts to ensure financial sustainability, and progress in implementing projects to improve the private sector, he added.

He also confirmed that the 2020 budget continues to support programs that contribute to achieving Vision 2030. This includes the financing of major projects, helping to develop medium, small and micro enterprises, and supporting entrepreneurs. These are some of the most important engines for economic growth, which will help to diversify the economy and open up new fields for investment and employment, he added

The budget includes reviews of some of these programs and schedules to ensure they reach their goals, Crown Prince Mohammed said, and the continued development and modernization of government infrastructure and services. He also stressed the government’s focus on improving the efficiency and quality of spending, to make the best use of state resources to achieve the highest possible social and economic income.

He highlighted the recent launch of oil company Saudi Aramco as a major step forward for the Kingdom, and his support for enhancing the role and participation of the private sector in the nation’s economy. He noted that opportunities for the private sector will continue to increase, enhancing its role in the growth and diversification of the economy and in creating job opportunities in the medium and long terms.

The crown prince also pointed out the part played by the Public Investment Fund and the National Development Fund in achieving Vision 2030, as the local and external investment mechanisms and the growth arm of the local economy, which are also contributing to the diversification of the economy and income sources. These are among the most important strategic goals of Vision 2030, he said.