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While it looks like the rest of the world is headed toward electrified transportation, Toyota sees it differently. It is currently testing a three-cylinder hydrogen-powered race car. It hopes the engine will develop into a production hydrogen engine. It wants to leaf frog over electric power to lead in carbon neutrality with hydrogen power. 

Akio Toyoda wants the government to stay out of what carbon neutral is

Toyota Corolla hydrogen-powered race car in the pits
Toyota Corolla hydrogen-powered race car | Toyota

The head of Toyota, Akio Toyoda, wants governments to stay out of deciding what the future of transportation will look like. There are other sources of virtually carbon-free engines that could turn into environmental solutions. Those would include some form of the internal combustion. 

“The ultimate goal is carbon neutrality,” Toyoda said to Automotive News. “It shouldn’t be about rejecting hybrids and gasoline cars and only selling fuel cells and battery-electric cars. We want to expand the choices available in the path to carbon neutrality. This is the first step.”

First, this sounds great. We agree-why have the government limit what is available toward a carbon-neutral end? But remember that Toyota is behind in electric vehicle development and has few EVs at this time. 

Toyota led the way with its Prius hybrid sedan over 15 years ago

A white Toyota Prius is seen connected to a electric vehicle charging station in a Washington, D.C., parking garage
The Toyota Prius | Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

But also remember that Toyota led the way with its Prius hybrid sedan over 15 years ago. There was nothing like it on the road. However, at some point, auto manufacturers felt that ditching hybrids for full-on all-electric power were the way to go. 

And with that path, has made the internal combustion engine out to be the problem. The government has turned it into a war on ICE vehicles. Instead, it should be a goal toward net-zero carbon. 

“Toyota isn’t doing this because it’s behind in EVs,” said Takaki Nakanishi, head auto analyst at the Nakanishi Research Institute. “Toyota’s doing this to save Japan’s auto industry and its domestic supply chain. This is a performance by Toyoda to influence policy in a better direction.”

The “performance” is in reference to Toyoda lapping the Corolla race car with hydrogen power at Fuji Speedway. Toyoda was part of the team driving the Corolla in a 24-hour endurance race. It is meant to show the durability of the new engine, though only under development at this stage. 

Currently, there are a number of problems with hydrogen power

A blue 2021 Toyota Mirai on a showroom floor.
A 2021 Toyota Mirai | Noriko Hayashi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Problems with hydrogen power are many. Fueling stations are almost non-existent. Tanks necessary to contain pressurized hydrogen are expensive to make and heavy. And the pressurized hydrogen itself is expensive. So there are many hurdles outside of engine development that need to be addressed. 

Toyota currently offers the Mirai hydrogen-powered fuel-cell sedan. Hyundai has the Nexo, and Honda with its Clarity-all three are offering hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. But they’re not having nearly the impact that the Prius did after its first generation. 

Mazda was experimenting with hydrogen-powered rotary engines in the 1990s and finding they were compatible. But in the early 2000s, they shifted away from hydrogen to concentrate on electrification. Now it has expressed interest in reviving that development. 

Many countries are looking at 2050 as the point where they will see the complete elimination of gasoline power. So it is still about 30 years away. Much has changed in the last 30 years so continued development with hydrogen power still has time to become a solution to carbon neutrality. 


Why Aren’t There More Hydrogen Powered Cars?