Toyota ramps up production to meet expected ten-fold growth in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles

Toyota anticipates that global sales of fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) will increase significantly after 2020, from today’s 3,000 units to at least 30,000. To prepare for this growth, the company has unveiled plans for two new major production facilities in Japan.

A new building at the Honsha plant will accommodate the expansion of fuel cell stack production, while the Shimoyama factory will gain a new line to manufacture high-pressure hydrogen tanks.

The fuel cell stack (see image above) is the component in an FCEV which generates electricity from a reaction between hydrogen and oxygen, powering the car with zero harmful exhaust emissions. The hydrogen fuel is contained in on-board high-pressure tanks. Manufacturing these components at scale is critical to reducing system costs and making FCEVs more widely available.

Expansion of production facilities

To increase fuel cell stack output, Toyota will move production within its Honsha plant to a new high-tech, eight-floor facility close to the site of the company’s original car factory, which opened in 1938.

Artist’s rendering of the fuel cell stack production building within the Honsha plant

Production of high-pressure hydrogen tanks will be handled by a new, dedicated line to be added to the nearby Shimoyama plant. Previously, tanks were assembled at Honsha on a smaller scale. They are made of extra-thick carbon fibre and built to withstand major impacts.

Cross-section of one of the Toyota Mirai’s high-pressure hydrogen tanks

These new facilities are expected to help significantly reduce carbon emissions during production. This is one of the initiatives for the Plant Zero CO2 Emissions Challenge in the Toyota Environmental Challenge 2050, announced in October 2015.

Construction is under way at Shimoyama and the exterior of the new building at Honsha has been completed, ready for the interior to be fitted out. Further details will be announced later, ahead of operations starting around 2020.

Expansion of FCEV sales

Hydrogen fuel cells are now a mature technology and ready for wider distribution. Toyota took the market lead in introducing the mass-produced Mirai fuel cell saloon in December 2014. Since then annual production and sales have increased each year, from around 700 vehicles in 2015 to about 2,000 in 2016 and approximately 3,000 in 2017.

To encourage more widespread use of hydrogen-powered, zero emission vehicles, they need to be made more popular and widely available by the 2020s. Toyota aims to sell 30,000 FCEVs annually from around that time.

At present, Mirai is sold in 11 countries: Japan, the USA and nine countries in Europe, including the UK. To help develop an environment that will allow FCEVs to be sold in more markets in the future, demonstration tests of Mirai are under way in Australia, Canada and the United Arab Emirates. Toyota is examining demand for FCEVs while continuing to help with initiatives to promote hydrogen infrastructure development.

In Japan, Toyota aims to reach sales of at least 1,000 FCEVs per month and more than 10,000 annually from around 2020. Sales regions in the country will be expanded from the current four major metropolitan areas to make the car accessible to more customers.

Where commercial vehicles are concerned, Toyota started sales of fuel cell buses to the Tokyo city authority in February 2017 and introduced a final version of its model, the Sora this year. It aims to sell at least 100 such buses ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

In the future, Toyota will expand its FCEV product range and continue to strengthen product appeal, aiming to bring vehicle costs down. It will also keep working with the Toyota Group and other companies to develop a hydrogen supply infrastructure and build a low-carbon hydrogen supply chain. Through these and other initiatives, the company is playing an active part in bringing about a hydrogen-based society.

Learn more: How does a hydrogen fuel cell work?

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