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Toyota pins hydrogen hopes on commercial sector

Future now: Toyota took a number of local journalists for a spin in its hydrogen fuel-cell powered Mirai sedan in Melbourne last week.

Acceptance of hydrogen fuel-cell tech could start with commercial sector: Toyota

Toyota logo6 Oct 2015

By TIM NICHOLSON

TOYOTA Australia believes the commercial sector provides the key to consumer acceptance of hydrogen fuel-cell technology in this country ahead of a wider rollout to private buyers in future.

The Japanese car-maker’s latest hydrogen fuel-cell powertrain is showcased in the futuristic Mirai passenger sedan, but given the lack of refuelling infrastructure and government support in Australia, the local subsidiary is looking at other avenues to increase awareness of the environmentally friendly technology.

Speaking at the Australian preview of the Mirai in Melbourne last week, Toyota Australia president Dave Buttner said the company was confident that the use of hydrogen-powered vehicles in the commercial sector would help facilitate a broader rollout further down the track.

“When we look towards the future and the infrastructure development and how this product can really grow in marketplaces around the world, we think in Australia there is a great potential in a commercial vehicle-type market where most of those vehicles return to the depot either in their home state or in another state overnight,” he said.

“It provides refuelling opportunities where you just need one refuelling stop with the infrastructure in place.”

Mr Buttner said that while there was some way to go before appropriate infrastructure was built, he added that Toyota’s vision of starting with the commercial sector was the best strategy.

“Hydrogen is a promising alternate fuel for the future and the Mirai is the exciting technology that Toyota is offering globally. As Australians, we want to eventually be part of that,” he said.

“Of course, we acknowledge that we are a fair way off being in a position to introduce this technology in Australia as we first need the relevant infrastructure.

“However, with a well-developed implementation plan towards the future, we believe this vision would be an ideal way to introduce Australia to this exciting new technology and pave the way for the eventual rollout to the private sector.” The Mirai uses the in-house-developed Toyota Fuel Cell System that features hybrid and fuel-cell technology. It emits only water vapour, making it a zero-emissions vehicle, it offers a driving range of 550km and can be refuelled in as little as three minutes – a similar time to that of a regular petrol engine.

Toyota’s push to promote the green powertrain technology coincides with the sixth World Hydrogen Technologies Convention in Sydney in mid-October, an event the company is sponsoring.

The car-maker has imported one example of its Mirai to Australia for the event in a bid to further engage with government and industry and look at the next steps in supporting a rollout of hydrogen fuel-cell refuelling infrastructure.

Mr Buttner said that while Toyota regularly interacts with government, having the Mirai in Australia at the convention will allow people from all sides of government and industry to interact with the technology directly and give them a better understanding of its capabilities.

“We work with whoever the incumbent government is and we are really keen to use the opportunity of having Mirai here in Australia for the World Hydrogen Technologies Convention and then go to Canberra and we are inviting politicians to come and experience the vehicle, to have the opportunity to sit in the vehicle and go for a drive,” he said.

“We are of the same opinion here in Victoria. It’s a great chance for us to have the physical entity rather than talking about something that people can’t touch. You can actually touch this vehicle, sit in it and experience the drive and really start that conversation about what is required to have this as mainstream technology in Australian marketplace.”

Mr Buttner said having refuelling stations on highways between major cities and centres would help the business case for the Mirai in Australia, and added that while Toyota had not pursued a joint venture with an existing fuel and/or infrastructure provider, the company was involved in a number of discussions about the technology.

“I have to say I don’t think that any conversation is off the table at the moment,” he said. “What is the appropriate way to ensure this technology can be adopted as quickly as possible for customers and the environment? “So that may mean a whole host of different engagements perhaps you hadn’t thought about in the past. And we shouldn’t take anything off the table. We should have an open mind to work with anybody to make this a mainstream technology as soon as possible.”

At this stage the company has not developed plans for a consumer trial of the Mirai in Australia, with Mr Buttner highlighting that it is early days for the car and the technology.

“We have got a lot of ideas in the melting pot at the moment. Again, nothing definitive. This is really our first foray. Bring the product out, show it in Australia, let people experience it at the convention and then start the discussion,” he said.

“Everything has to start somewhere and if we start with the physical product to get the discussion going then a whole host of other things could flow from that.”

While Mr Buttner said there were no immediate plans to install a refuelling station at Toyota dealers, he reiterated that “everything is on the table”.

South Korean car-maker Hyundai currently has an example of its ix35 Fuel Cell vehicle in Australia for evaluation and marketing purposes, and the company has installed a refuelling station at its headquarters in the Sydney suburb of Macquarie Park.

Both Hyundai and Toyota have confirmed that they are in discussions with how best to work together in promoting hydrogen in Australia.

Mr Buttner said Toyota declined Hyundai’s offer to refuel the Mirai at the Korean brand’s headquarters while it is in Australia, but added that it was only because they did not think the Mirai would need to be refuelled in its brief time Down Under.

“We haven’t only because we don’t believe we need to. I think the more co-operation we can have among the manufacturers to really do everything we can to make sure the infrastructure is in place and we can adopt this as quickly as possible over time as a mainstream fuel and technology I think is fantastic.”

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