When it comes to hydrogen-powered vehicles, Toyota is thinking big.
Toyota officially unveiled a massive, hydrogen-powered truck on Wednesday that will transport cargo within the Port of Los Angeles. The 18-wheeler is part of a larger feasibly study that will assess how the emerging technology performs in heavy duty vehicles.
The Japan-based company will also release 100 hydrogen-powered buses at the Tokyo Olympic games to transport athletes and spectators.
“The key to making any new fuel work is to have adoption of that fuel across a wide spectrum of applications,” Craig Scott, the director of Toyota’s advanced technologies group, told Business Insider.
Toyota has been developing its fuel-cell technology for over two decades. In October 2015, Toyota began selling its hydrogen-powered Mirai sedan in California for $57,500. To-date, the automaker has sold 1,500 units.
The truck is powered by two Mirai fuel-cell stacks and a small 12 kWh battery to help with higher performance demands. It certainly packs a punch; the truck generates more than 670 horsepower and 1,325 lb.-ft. of torque, according to Toyota.
Toyota isn’t the only company interested in replacing diesel.
Tesla plans to unveil an electric semi-truck and pick-up truck within two years, and Mercedes is currently testing its electric truck in Germany. A startup called Nikola Motor plans to deliver its hydrogen truck in 2020.
Musk is a vocal opponent of hydrogen-powered vehicles, having gone so far as to call them “incredibly dumb.” His main argument is that it’s incredibly difficult to produce and store hydrogen.
There are clear issues with fuel-cell vehicles, primarily the lack of infrastructure to support them. There are only 34 hydrogen re-fueling stations in the United States, and 18 of them are in California, according to the US Department of Energy.
For comparison, there are close to 16,000 electric charging stations, and owners of battery-powered vehicles still consider charging to be an inconvenience.
Proponents of hydrogen will argue that fuel-cells are inherently a better technology, despite the challenges of having to build out infrastructure to support the vehicles.
Hydrogen vehicles boast much longer ranges than their electric vehicle counterparts. It also takes a few minutes to fill up a hydrogen tank, while charging a car battery takes at least 30 minutes with a fast charger.
“Trucks are operating in 8 to 15 hour shifts and there is a lot of turnover on the truck,” Scott said. “The truck can’t be down for hours on end re-charging. It just doesn’t work for their business model.”
Toyota, Honda, and General Motors are all working with state regulators to bring hydrogen-powered vehicles to the Northeast. Honda currently leases its hydrogen-powered Clarity sedan in California, but it has only been on the market since December of last year.
Honda and GM plan to mass produce fuel-cells in 2020 as part of an $85 million joint venture.
Fuel-cell tech may still be a nascent field, but big names in the auto industry are looking to change that.
Following the 2020 Olympics, Toyota may produce fuel-cell buses for the Japanese market, Scott said. But nothing is set in stone; Toyota is interested in using the technology in everything from forklifts to SUVs.
“Frankly nothing is off the table,” Scott said. “We have to make cars people will want to buy and obviously SUVs are really hot.”