Toyota Leads Clean Cars. Now Critics Say Delaying Them Works.


On paper, Toyota’s approach to zero-emission vehicles is a hydrogen fuel cell dream: Unlike battery-powered electric vehicles, these cars carry hydrogen tanks and fuel cells that convert hydrogen into electricity. They refuel and accelerate quickly and can travel several hundred miles on a tank just by emitting water vapor. And hydrogen is theoretically abundant.

But the high sticker price and lack of refueling infrastructure have hindered the growth of the hydrogen economy, at least for passenger cars.

However, Toyota has sold only 11,000 of its Mirai fuel cell cars since introducing the vehicle in 2014. Honda, another hydrogen pioneer, said this week it killed its hydrogen model. Many analysts say hydrogen technology is better suited for long-haul trucks or for use in energy-intensive industries like steelmaking.

“I think hydrogen shows promise, but it’s currently at least a decade behind batteries,” said David Friedman, vice president of advocacy for Consumer Reports and former acting executive director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “And Toyota says, ‘No, we have to wait, we have to wait until we’re ready with hydrogen.’ But the climate cannot wait.”

Toyota also argues that hybrid technology – that is, vehicles powered by an internal combustion engine and an electric motor – is the easier first step towards fully electric cars and could help more people move to cleaner cars faster until hydrogen becomes mainstream. Toyota has also invested heavily in hybrid technology. The company has set a vision for a product line By 2050, hybrids will dominate — much later than when many analysts said new cars should be zero-emissions.

Toyota doesn’t currently sell any electric vehicles in major markets outside of China, but said in April it plans to sell 15 battery electric models worldwide by 2025, which are part of its lineup of 70 battery-electric, hybrid and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. offers buyers “various options”.


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