Toyota To Launch Hydrogen Fuel Cell Sedan in Japan Next Week, But Faced With €100,000 Loss Per Car in Europe

It’s official. Following on from the many sneak peaks and press conferences Toyota has already given on its plans for hydrogen fuel cell technology, the Japanese automaker will be holding its official launch ceremony next Tuesday in Tokyo for its first mass-produced hydrogen fuel cell car — the 2015 Toyota Fuel Cell Sedan.

On Tuesday, Toyota will officially launch its upcoming 2015 Fuel Cell Sedan -- but how much money will it lose on each car?

On Tuesday, Toyota will officially launch its upcoming 2015 Fuel Cell Sedan — but how much money will it lose on each car?

Back in June, Toyota held a press conference to announce the car’s  ¥7 million ($60,400) domestic market sticker price and give journalists a first glance of the vehicle’s final exterior design. Beyond that however, Toyota kept final details about range, performance and interior specification close to its corporate chest. Tuesday’s event, which Toyota will stream live to the Internet, is expected to change that, giving the world the first real look inside the upcoming vehicle.

In what must be one of the longest launch cycles we’ve seen for any car, we’re sure Toyota will use Tuesday’s official Japanese-market Fuel Cell Sedan launch ceremony to reiterate the massive incentives awaiting anyone in its home market who decides to buy a Fuel Cell Sedan.  These incentives — as much as ¥3 million in some prefectures — bring the price of the Toyota Fuel Cell Sedan in line with many other alternative-fuelled vehicles, including the 2015 Nissan LEAF, making for some pretty tough competition in the Japanese green car marketplace. If Toyota can produce and sell enough vehicles at a large enough economy of scale  to make up for the big costs associated with pushing hydrogen fuel cell technology, it may even turn a small profit in its domestic market.

Yet outside of Japan, where Toyota has yet to secure anywhere near the incentive levels promised by Japanese Prime Minister Abe, things could be very different indeed.

That’s a fact not missed by former President of the European Parliament Pat Cox, who warned yesterday that Toyota could lose somewhere between €50,000 and €100,000 ($66,000 and $133,000) on each and every Fuel Cell Sedan it sells in Europe next year.

He made the remarks earlier today during a presentation at the 2014 Michelin Challenge Bibendum in Chengdu, China in which he outlined just how much money would be needed to build a full and functioning hydrogen fuel cell network capable of supporting hydrogen fuel cell cars.

Hydrogen fuelling stations still remain the biggest hurdle, says Pat Cox.

Hydrogen fuelling stations still remain the biggest hurdle, says Pat Cox.

As our friends over at Autobloggreen detail, Cox was detailing the specifics of the recent EU Directive 2014/94, which requires each member state in the EU to develop its own policy frameworks to facilitate a national switch away from fossil fuels and towards a number of different alternative fuels. With member states expected to submit their individual plans by 2016 and then implement them by 2025, there’s still some time to go before the actual installation of infrastructure goes ahead, although we should note that some infrastructures — like electric vehicle recharging networks — are already being implemented by many EU member states.

While the standard doesn’t call on countries to develop hydrogen refuelling networks specifically — other fuel types are also allowed — Cox said that the lead time of the directive is down to some significant problems with hydrogen fuel cell technology. Namely, he said, despite the EU spending more than €550 million on hydrogen-related and fuel-cell vehicle research projects, there still wasn’t a cheap way of building refuelling stations.

“One can count up to one million euro per refuelling station at the moment, and also the very high cost of vehicles,” he said. “The first-mover cost is not the first-mover advantage, but the first-mover disadvantage and high risk.”

At the moment, there are just 27 publicly-available hydrogen fuelling stations across the entire EU, many of which are in unusual places , like Honda’s recently-upgraded Hydrogen refuelling station at its Swindon production facility in the UK, more than five miles from the nearest motorway. This is in stark contrast to more than 1,300 CHAdeMO DC quick chargers, 500 Combo CCS chargers installed in Europe, 100 Tesla Supercharger stations and many thousands of ordinary Type 2 charging stations.

Cox: Governments in the EU have already invested €550 million in H2 technology.

Cox: Governments in the EU have already invested €550 million in H2 technology.

Making a loss on a new vehicle technology is something Toyota is more than willing to do: back in 1997 when it launched the first-generation Toyota Prius hybrid, Toyota made no money on the tiny sedan. In fact, it took many years — well into the Prius’ second-generation incarnation — before Toyota truly turned a profit on both the Prius nameplate and its hybrid technology.

But in the case of the Prius hybrid, Toyota didn’t require a new infrastructure to be built in order to achieve success. In the case of the Fuel Cell Sedan, it does. Moreover, the costs associated with building hydrogen refuelling stations pale into insignificance against the losses Cox claims Toyota will make on each FCV it sells. At an expected price of somewhere around €50,000 per vehicle, Cox said that Toyota will be “probably taking a hit of €50,000 to €100,000 per unit in order to achieve that roll-out.”

And with governments reticent to invest beyond the first few tentative years of the technology, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles could face an even more severe form of the same paradox we’ve seen in recent years with electric cars. Namely, that consumers won’t buy them until the infrastructure is in place and is reliable — and businesses won’t invest until they’re confident of a return on their investment and a large enough market to guarantee that.

Is hydrogen fuel cell technology doomed? Is Pat Cox correct? Or will other forces come into play to ensure hydrogen fuel cell technology takes off.

And just how much will Toyota lose on every new Fuel Cell Sedan it sells in the first few years?

Leave your thoughts and predictions in the Comments below.


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  • Esl1999 .

    Will this be Toyota’s biggest folly? Stay tuned.

  • Surya

    I’m always annoyed when this car is touted as the first mass market FC car. It’s not mass market if the production is limited. Sales will be a couple of hundreds, maybe a few thousands a year, but no where near what most EV manufacturers manage to sell today.nnToyota is willing to make a loss on the cars for the first couple of years, like with the Prius. But they don’t seem to be willing to install any infrastructure themselves, except for the occasional facility they own where they might need it for testing. Quite the contrast with other companies like Tesla, Nissan and Renault who install infrastructure on a wider scale or support the companies doing so.

    • Israel Navas Duran

      You have no fvcking idea what you’re talking about:nn1. The definition of mass-produced model.nn2. The number of units of a every BEV model sold during the first years of existence.nn3. The number of units of BEV models sold this year and the major markets.

      • Surya

        Well, maybe I don’t agree with the defenition of the term ‘mass produced’nLimited production to satisfy emission requirements is not mass market in my eyes.nnAnd I am very confident these FCs will sell far below the numbers of say the Model S in it’s full first year of production.nnAnd I happen to be quite aware of the numbers of BEVs sold in most countries, thanks to a site which posts monthly updates on a lot of countries.

  • BEP

    Wow, this car is ugly. Really ugly. It looks like four or five different teams designed a portion of the car each without knowing the other’s work, and at the end they put all the pieces together. I mean, the i3 for example is ugly in my opinion, but at least the design is coherent. This Toyota is a Frankestein car.

  • EVFest

    Being strictly fueled by Hydrogen will be these cars biggest challenge! If the studied GM, they would have known that GM had Fuel Cell of 80 kW capacity in a mock up of the Volt back in 2010, which would be a better business case model or type for the H2 & Fuel Cell tech to launch with! nnGive these cars a decent battery all electric range, like 60 miles minimum, to even better – 100 miles, and back that up with 200 – 300 miles from the Fuel Cell and H2! Then give them a 10 kW AC charger onboard, PLUS DC Quick Charging – giving them an excellent viability in the City, and choices for their long distance driving: fuel fast with H2, or slower with DC charging, or overnight when at hotels, with Level 2 Charging, when on road trips!nnThis vehicle design approach can solve much of the chicken and egg issue of infrastructure, as it piggy backs on an already growing EV Infrastructure solution, that for little money, Toyota and Honda could easily develop with Dealers putting in Level 2 Chargers along will a % of Level 3 chargers in a decent ratio. As Kia is now the Third EV producer using the CHAdeMO standard, included in all their Soul EV,s – it would be best to make this the standard, with CCS as an option, at least in the Japanese- and North American markets.nnThis also means that fewer Cities need H2 Fueling Stations in town, with most of them outside and between cities! Addionaly, putting in Level 3 Charging Stations in clusters of 4 – 6, or maybe up to 10, between H2 Fueling Stations, in an alternating fashion, means that one stop would be really fast for Hydrogen, and the next stop, you get a break from driving while the DC QC fills up your battery! They could also install a couple CHAdeMO units at each H2 Station, in case you wanted to top up you battery at the same time you fueled up with H2!nn

  • EVFest

    FCV’s need to be built as Plugin Hybrid Fuel Cell Vehicle’s, for at least 4 – 6 years, with at least 100 miles BEV Range, and the remainder of their target – 200 or so miles, by H2 and Fuel Cell, so that they can sell them – like Chevy Started this round with the Volt, using the Gas powered range extender, as an easy solution for back up power, if they found themselves out of battery power, where there was either no place to charge, or a tight schedule, with no times to charge! Advantage -> Chevy: Thousands of Gas Stations in 2010.nnFast forward to now or to 2015: Thousands of places to charge up an EV – see http://www.plugshare.com or http://www.ChargePoint.com – (no thanks to Toyota Dealers, for most or nearly any of these), and just a few H2 refueling places! Plus, 740+ CHAdeMO units in the USA – http://www.chademo.com, 3 now in Ontario, Canada, and more than 6 in British Columbia, Canada!nnSure, they convinced California to invest/spend – $$$millions, and CA is a big potential market, if they get the car/fueling done right, but a PH-FCV would have been just about as radical, with far less risk! nnWith the cost of just ONE H2 refueling station at about a Million $$, the same money could easily install 10 or more 50 kW CHAdeMO Charging Stations, allowing for far more flexible placement, and potential multiple locations served. Such arrangement potential also means less distance to go, to recharge, versus, having to drive a solely H2 fueled FCV, more miles out of your way to get to a scarce H2 Station, to refuel! nnSuch flexibility, could add up to less time spent on a top up detour recharging, than for the purported faster refueling!

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