Toyota and its alternative fuel future

Toyota has long been a leader in alternative fuel and powertrain technologies, and the company’s long-term vision of the future is a glimpse of how it intends to keep leading.

In classic Toyota style, though, we are motivated not by individual vehicles we make, or will make, but by what they achieve for people. The company believes in mobility for all, in the right way. Despite the extensive world-leading research and development going on, it’s not the Toyota way to shout about things.

So let’s lift the lid a little on Toyota’s vision for the future.

Our future is defined by what we call the Toyota Environmental Challenge 2050. We think it’s the most ambitious and exciting vision of any car company.

The six challenges Toyota has set itself are:

It’s big stuff, and it affects every part of our company and the way we work. It provides us with a road map for the future, so it’s at the heart of everything we do.

To go forward, though, you need to understand where you started from. For Toyota it was a vision to make alternatively powered cars acceptable and normal for people, helping to cut CO2 emissions, improve the environment and save the customer money on fuel.

When the Prius was launched in 1997 that idea seemed like science fiction. Two decades on and more than four million Prius have been sold; in fact we’ve made more than 11 million Toyota and Lexus petrol-electric hybrids (HVs) and these days lots of other manufacturers have followed suit with their own hybrid-style cars. Pleasingly, Toyota is number one for hybrid sales in every country in Europe and is now into its fourth generation of hybrid technology.

Toyota Prius montage

To put that in perspective, since the launch of Prius Toyota has saved approximately 29 billion litres of petrol from being consumed, and approximately 77 million fewer tonnes of CO2 have been emitted worldwide.

In the UK, Toyota hybrid sales continue to soar, and today green electric technology is no longer a mystery to customers.

Hybrid technologies remain a core part of our vision for the future, a future we think will see a multitude of powertrain options to suit customer demands and needs.

With this in mind, Toyota has been working on the right plug-in hybrid (PHV) and pure electric vehicles (EV) for the future, not just focussing on what we could produce today alongside our existing hybrids and PHVs, like the recent Prius Plug-in (sales of which are more than 80,000 to date).

Electric vehicle development

Did you know that the Toyota hybrid systems are modular? This means that compared with most car makers it’s easier for us to make a normal hybrid a plug-in, or a pure EV or even a fuel cell vehicle (more of which we’ll come to in a moment) on a much larger scale.

Toyota has been inventing, developing and finessing new technologies for years, however it believes that unless a solution is a mass market one, it doesn’t necessarily solve the issue for the customer. The car market, and the wider national infrastructure to support alternative fuel vehicles, is still developing.

Crucially, we have learnt through our hybrid leadership that consumers go on a journey when it comes to changing tech and what works is co-operating with stakeholders (everyone involved, in other words) to help customers feel confident in making those choices. That means everyone working together to build understanding.

With that in mind, Toyota has been working with governments around the world, including in the UK, and joining forces with other forward-thinking technology partners. The aim of is to develop next-generation alternative fuel vehicles with shared architecture that are a real option for the majority of buyers. So when the time is right, we will have the technology, the manufacturing capability and the experience to make a mass market impact in EV.

We rarely talk about this work, but news emerged about exciting new solid state battery technology discovered by Toyota engineers in Japan, which has the potential to vastly improve range and lower charging times. This is just one of hundreds of projects around battery development Toyota is undertaking. We’re working on the development of a huge variety of next generation batteries, for example: all-solid, metal-air, sodium ion, and magnesium (multi-charged ion).

The components these batteries power is being considered, too. For example, Toyota has developed the world’s first neodymium-reduced electric motor magnets that use significantly less rare-earth materials than traditional magnets.

As new generations of Toyota hybrids, plug-ins and EV comes to market in the coming years we want to offer the very best vehicles possible, of the right type, at the right time, to meet the needs of everyone.

Much of this work is wrapped up in a whole new Electric Vehicles Business Planning Department headed by the very top executive in the entire Toyota corporation.

More than just electric vehicles

However our 2050 Challenge is bigger than just EVs. To work, it will need to embrace many powertrain technologies and formats.

If we are to achieve mobility for all we need to recognise that people’s needs are different depending on their circumstances, what they use a vehicle for, and where they live.

We see a future with a holistic range of vehicle types: HVs, PHVs, EVs and something else… the ultimate eco cars, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs).

With the hydrogen-powered Toyota Mirai, we have launched another element of that 2050 Challenge. Mirai is a car which runs on hydrogen filled up from a fuel station pump just like a traditional car, which doesn’t need charging and produces only pure water from its exhaust.

Mirai is packed with a multitude of unique technologies which have combined to create a step-change in FCV usability. Thanks to that work you can now take a Mirai taxi in London and the only thing you’ll notice is how nice a car Mirai is to ride in.

Here’s an example. Toyota engineers invented a revolutionary tank system for storing hydrogen in cars. Toyota then made 290 patents covering the hydrogen tanks royalty free in order to help others in their FCV development.

In fact, Toyota made a total of 5,860 patents concerning FCVs royalty-free, in order to accelerate the uptake of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

Here in the UK (as well as globally) we’re working with government and other partners to facilitate the growth of hydrogen infrastructure towards the day when FCVs can become a real everyday option, not just for private cars but also commercial vehicles. It will take time but, as hybrid showed, Toyota is a company that plans for the future.

This is just a taste of what Toyota is developing and working on and we hope it gives you a glimpse of what Toyota is planning for the alternative fuel future.

We don’t do much shouting, but we do a lot of thinking, creating, inventing, developing and planning. We think that’s the way to build ever-better cars.

Comments (2)

  1. The benefits of fuel cells linked to battery storage manly for storing regen energy are clear and have benefits over pure battery electric vehicles, which are both clearly much better for the environment than internal combustion engine vehicles. However a “sticking” point is the infrastructure needed to make, compress and distribute hydrogen? However new fuel cells are being improved that can run on methanol and bio-ethanol, two liquids clearly superior to hydrogen from a distribution and storage point of view, not necessarily as energy dense, however they would provide the best balance that will suit all needs. Are Toyota actively looking at methanol (DMFC) and bio-ethanol (SOFC) technology to bring this online in the next 5 years, we can’t wait until 2050 or even the governments 2040 deadline for this?

    1. Hi Chris,
      Thanks for your comment. We have no news with regards to methanol and bio-ethanol fueled cars and we feel that when the time is right, most notably in 2025, we will dedicate our time in ensuring BEVs are widespread across our range. Thanks.

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