At a time when the electric vehicle (EV) conversation is going wonky and there is little definition to the path from our present emissions mess to achieving a zero emissions economy accurate information and perspectives are essential. This is why on 07.30.2021 Fuel Cells Works sat down with Aaron Fowles who is a member of the Mobility Communications team at Toyota North America to talk about EVs, Toyota, and the future.
One thing that Fuel Cells Works sees on a daily basis is most people automatically only connecting the battery electric vehicle (BEV) with being an EV, and we asked Mr. Fowles if Toyota sees any inaccuracy where fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) are concerned. Mr. Fowles said “absolutely there is a lot of misunderstanding [regarding whether] FCEVs are EVs.” His point was inline with what Fuel Cells Works sees where people can equate a BEV with an EV, but many are unable to do the same thing where FCEVs are concerned even though both BEVs and FCEVs are types of EVs. The difference between the two types of EVs is that a BEV gets its energy from its battery that has to be frequently recharged, and a FCEV gets it energy by periodically being filled with hydrogen. In a FCEV when hydrogen moves from the storage tank to the fuel cell stack electrons from the hydrogen power an electric motor.
Unfortunately for the fuel cell industry as a whole another issue that Mr. Fowles noted is that most people do not even know that FCEVs exist, and often the media portrays the technology as having missed the proverbial train. Yet, if a person inquiries into hydrogen fuel cell technology at companies like Hyundai and Toyota, then a person will discover that fuel cells are just getting started. It has only been in the past few years that light duty fuel cell vehicles have been brought to the mass market by way of Hyundai’s Nexo and Toyota’s Mirai. The same is true where other technologies are concerned like trains. Alstom’s hydrogen trains are just entering mass commercial application, and in aviation Avia One’s planes are literally just taking off. It took about 20 years of product development for Toyota to bring the Mirai to the market, since hydrogen fuel cell technology is more advanced than the technology in a BEV. Ultimately, a BEV is based on the same technology that allows golf carts to putter around a golf course, which means creating a BEV is a bit like climbing up a steep hill. Creating the Mirai or the Nexo is much closer to beginning the journey to climb Mt. Everest from sea level.
Another present aspect of EVs that creates uncertainty is the lack of governmental guidance. Mr. Fowles noted that while California’s governor Newsom signed an executive order to sunset the selling of new fossil fuel-based vehicles by 2035, there is no corresponding guidance at the federal level in the U.S. Perhaps worse is that the U.S. is not unique in the lack of firm national governmental guidance on what automakers need to presently do in order to meet possible future sunset dates for fossil fuel vehicles. From a consumer’s point of view, it makes it difficult to understand why they should buy into BEVs or FCEVs, and for automakers it makes product planning difficult. Luckily as Mr. Fowles observed, Toyota has more than 20 years of practical experience as the first to mass market hybrid electric automotive technology. This has enabled Toyota to hybridize almost its entire fleet of new vehicles, which now includes a hybrid Corolla. Not only does this enable Toyota to continue to reduce the emissions its vehicle produces, but many of the same components that hybrids, including plug-in hybrids, use can also be found in BEVs and FCEVs making the technical aspect of the transition to EVs easier.
The extraordinary amount of effort Toyota put into creating a marketable FCEV in the Mirai as well as the work that Toyota has done over the years to hybridize its product lines is one reason why Mr. Fowles feels that, “Toyota is perhaps more sensitive on a global scale than the industry overall” where the future is concerned. When compared to other major players such as GM, Ford, and Volkswagen, Toyota feels it already has all of the pieces it needs for the future.
In the present Toyota will continue to refine its FCEV technology with the feedback it receives from Mirai owners and Toyota dealerships, and it will perfect the hybridization of its product lines. In the near-term Toyota will also use the expertise it developed in hybrid vehicles to bring the Toyota bZ4X (a BEV) to market in 2022. As consumers begin to buy more into BEVs and FCEVs it will reduce the vehicles made using traditional internal combustion. Ultimately, the goal for Toyota is to see consumers and governments move to technology-based solutions to completely eliminate carbon, focusing on EVs and whatever other kinds of zero emissions technologies the future brings.
One last point that Mr. Fowles made to Fuel Cells Works is that Toyota remains committed to vehicles that are efficient, reliable, and safe, and it is important to Toyota to maintain those principles as it continues to transition to producing zero emissions vehicles. After all, why change a winning formula?
For the first time in automotive history consumers have the option to go to a local Hyundai or Toyota dealership and buy BEVs or FCEVs that represent true pinnacles of automotive engineering. The ability to be able to buy full fledge zero emission vehicles is the realization of countless dreamers, and ultimately the collective positive power that humanity can wield when it sets differences aside. However, the zero emission dream will only be fully realized by continuing to work together and building a regenerative world that, while imperfect, will be capable of being proudly handed down from one generation to the next.
Jesse Lyon, Contributor
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Fuel Cells Works, its directors, partners, staff, contributors, or suppliers. Any content provided by our contributors or authors are of their own opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything.