Honda and Toyota Pull Away From the Pack

Apr 05, 2013 Two automotive giants which have long enjoyed parallel success as leaders in the field of low-emissions vehicles, Honda and Toyota, have both reaffirmed their 2015 commercialization time frame, announced plans to release new fuel cell vehicle models by that time, and soon both will have large-scale fuel cell installations at their headquarter facilities in Torrance, California. In March, Honda announced plans to install a 1-megawatt (MW) stationary solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) system at its headquarters. The system, which was manufactured and installed by Bloom Energy and its partner, Core States Group, will serve a wide variety of functions at the Torrance facility.  It consists of five energy servers, each producing 200 kilowatts of power, and will account for 25% of Honda’s electricity needs for the Torrance facility’s office space, development operations, and parts distribution. In a statement about the installation, Honda’s manager of North American corporate facilities, Garth Sellers, explained, “Honda already produces a hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle – the FCX Clarity – so we know this type of technology is an effective means of reducing our carbon footprint.” Honda’s shift toward more fuel cell utilization is expected to reduce the company’s carbon dioxide emissions in the region by an estimated 18-25 percent, as well as save approximately 3.25 million gallons of water per year. Honda’s Torrance neighbor Toyota announced the installation of a 1 MW stationary fuel cell system at its headquarters back in October 2012. This project was partially funded by California’s Self-Generation Incentive Program (SGIP), and was commissioned to Ballard Power Systems. Unlike the Honda installation, Toyota’s will be a proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell system. Over the past five years, both companies have been involved in a wide variety of fuel cell technology development: Honda began development of a household solid oxide fuel cell cogeneration unit, in collaboration with NGK Spark Plug Co. Ltd, and installed solar hydrogen station on the grounds of the Saitama Prefectural Office as part of Honda’s Electric Vehicle Testing Program. From 2003-2005, Honda and its partner Plug Power introduced several generations of the Home Energy Station, an appliance-like device that generates electricity and heat for the home, but also hydrogen for a fuel cell vehicle.  In 2007, they introduced the HES IV and installed it at its Torrance facility. Given the practical usefulness of fuel cells in the wake of natural disasters like hurricanes and tsunamis, especially in the case that the electrical grid is compromised, the efforts of both companies have largely focused on flexible emergency implementation. In 2012 Toyota began development of a fuel cell bus in Japan that could potentially provide shelter and emergency power during natural disasters. In the same spirit of preparedness, Honda equipped the FCX Clarity fuel cell electric vehicle with an outlet to function as a 9kW power source.  It is estimated that this feature would allow the Clarity to supply enough power to sustain a typical household for up to six days – with zero emissions! Toyota embarked on a collaborative effort with BMW to develop a fuel cell powered luxury sports car. Both Honda and Toyota signed a memorandum of understanding (along with Nissan and Hyundai) agreeing to work toward greater utilization of fuel cell electric vehicles in Scandinavian countries between 2014 and 2017. Despite all this involvement in fuel cell development, neither Honda nor Toyota had produced any totally new fuel cell vehicle models since their flagship vehicles (the FCX Clarity and the FCHV-adv, respectively) – until now. The two seem to be racing ahead of the rest of the automotive industry and have their sights set on 2015 for the launch date of new commercially available fuel cell vehicles. Honda’s FCX Clarity, which hit markets in 2002, was the first fuel cell vehicle to be certified by the EPA and the California Air Resources Board for commercial use. Since then, the company has developed several new editions of the Clarity, but no completely new vehicle models. However, in the fall of 2012 Honda announced plans to launch a new fuel cell vehicle by 2015. The new model is expected to be a four-door sedan or a five-door hatchback that expands upon (and replaces) the FCX Clarity. It will be sold in the United States, Japan, and Europe. Toyota’s new fuel cell vehicle, the FCV-R is also scheduled to become available in 2015. For both Honda and Toyota, deciding when and where to sell fuel cell vehicles is highly contingent upon the availability of hydrogen fueling stations. Currently, California is far and away the leader in hydrogen fueling facilities in the U.S, and is expected to be the major target for both Honda’s and Toyota’s new campaigns, with Japan and Germany also in their sights.

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