Autos

Toyota Puts Its Money Where Its Mouth Is on Hydrogen Fuel

Toyota FCV

To help build out its supporting infrastructure that will one day fuel its first mass-market hydrogen car, Toyota (NYSE:TM) is funneling a substantial amount of money into a startup company in California, FirstElement Fuel, led by a GM former marketing chief to speed up the opening of hydrogen-fuel stations in the state. 

Toyota will be putting up at least $7.2 million to back the project, according to letters filed with the California Energy Commission and obtained by Bloomberg, the site said. FirstElement will operate the pumps and sell hydrogen for passenger cars from at least 19 new stations throughout California.

“This is really the first step in creating a fueling network that for the first time allows people to use their cars with no limitations,” Ewanick, FirstElement’s chief executive officer, said in an interview with Bloomberg. California offers grants worth $46.6 million for hydrogen-fuel stations, and FirstElement landed the most, with $27.6 million. 

The stations will benefit more than Toyota, however; Hyundai and Honda are also working on their own respective hydrogen powered cars, some arriving as early as this year. However, Toyota has stood out given it’s mainstream ambitions; having brought hybrids into popularity, it’s ready to do the same with hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

Toyota FCV

California currently has just nine stations open for service, and 17 more in development, but the state is hoping to one day have over 100 stations over a decade. Last year, it unveiled a program to put $200 million towards the effort.

Toyota will be unleashing its hydrogen car — which is roughly the size of a Camry — in California next year. Honda, which has already leased its FCX Clarity car to a few lucky Californians, is planning a follow-up, and Hyundai is going the utility route with a fuel cell powered version of the Tucson crossover.

Hydrogen, like everything else, has its detractors. It’s expensive now, sure, just like every relatively new mainstream technology tends to be. But the world is in such a deep oil-reliant rut that many don’t see the room for alternative fuels, with which to craft a mosaic of options for personal mobility. Yes, battery-electric cars and hydrogen cars are expensive, now. But given a fair chance, it’s a diversity that would be great to see.

In a world where grocery stores’ stock untold numbers of varieties of peanut butter, potato chips, or soda and juice, it makes sense that consumers should have the same ability to choose the fuel that their vehicle runs on. For most consumer goods, its not one or the other — the market supports a vast array of choice and variety. And powertrains should join that model — so whether or not you favor one system over the other, the option of choice should be something everyone can support.