Tire kicking, #toyota style
To test its new tech, the fuel-cell group went #roadtriping.
Over the past three years, members of the fuel-cell vehicle group have logged more than 1 million test miles in certifying Toyota’s first-ever production fuel-cell car: a zero-emission, electric drive, four-door sedan that can travel 300 miles and be refueled in three minutes. On trips lasting weeks at a time, the nine-member group, based in Torrance, Calif., has taken the car from Yellowknife, Canada, to Death Valley, Calif., with stops in between in Las Vegas, San Francisco, and the Rockies.
Using classic automotive test protocol, the team installed the fuel-cell components in nondescript older cars known as engineering mules and traveled caravan-style with support vehicles. Three technicians handled the driving (technicians are renowned at Toyota for their ability to calibrate suspensions with their posteriors) while four engineers monitored the powertrain.
Due to be introduced in the U.S. next year, the car, which as yet has no official name, will initially be sold in California with a subsequent rollout to the Northeast, and Toyota (tm, +0.11%), optimistically, has already boosted its production targets.
The carmaker has been working on fuel cells since 1992 and now believes they have greater potential for development than similar battery-powered cars. Powertrain costs have been reduced 95% over the past 10 years, partly by including the use of parts already developed for Toyota hybrids. Packaging the bulky components has been significantly streamlined. Team leader Matt McClory says the fuel-cell car has already passed one key test: In the bitter -30° cold at Yellowknife, a conventional gas-powered rental car being used as a support vehicle failed to start after a cold night. The fuel-cell car fired up flawlessly. —Alex Taylor III