Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology Powers New Lexus LS-FC Concept in Tokyo, Hints at Production Version

It may have only just began sales of its limited-production 2016 Mirai fuel cell sedan, but Japanese automaker Toyota is keen to move toward a future where hydrogen fuel cell vehicles can form a mainstream part of its automotive lineup.

The Lexus LF-FC is a realistic vision of what a future Lexus LS FCV could look like.

The Lexus LF-FC is a realistic vision of what a future Lexus LS FCV could look like.

And with that in mind, Toyota’s luxury arm Lexus has just unveiled a new hydrogen fuel cell concept car at this week’s Tokyo Motor Show. Called the LF-FC, Toyota says the full-size sedan concept design previews what it has in store for Lexus’ flagship LS in the near future, but stopped short of confirming its intent to bring a hydrogen fuel cell variant to market.

Four inches longer, four inches wider and two inches lower than the current Lexus LS, the LF-FC wears what feels like an exaggerated version of Lexus’ trademark grille. LED lights — narrower than anything we’ve seen on production Lexus cars — follow the same design ethos as any number of recent concept cars from Lexus, including the LF-NX and LF-CF concepts from years past.

Overall however, the shape is a familiar one. There’s a few nips and tucks here and there, as well as a few line changes which make it feel more like a Coupe than a sedan at some angles. Even the Toyota Mirai-inspired tail lights — which look terrible on Toyota’s hydrogen fuel cell sedan — seem at home on the LF-FC. In fact, if the shape and lines of the LF-FC are the same as the next-generation LS, we think it will make a far more interesting and better-looking car than the current, somewhat restrained design of the current LS.

Even those Mirai-inspired taillights look better on the LF-FC

Even those Mirai-inspired taillights look better on the LF-FC

Enough of the looks. What makes this particular concept car interesting is the drivetrain, as well as the way it is packaged inside the vehicle.

Like the Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell sedan, the Lexus LF-FC concept is powered by a powerful electric motor which gets its electricity from a high-output hydrogen fuel cell stack. Unlike the Mirai however, the Lexus LF-FC is an all-wheel drive vehicle, with in-wheel motors front and rear.  This not only allows the Lexus LF-FC to benefit from the precise control of torque vectoring and all-wheel drive, but also ensure there’s plenty of space under the vehicle for a T-shaped hydrogen fuel cell arrangement that ensures the fuel tanks do not compromise trunk space.

Under the hood, where you’d ordinarily find an internal combustion engine in most Lexus cars, lives the hydrogen fuel cell stack and power electronics, presumably taken directly from the Mirai hydrogen fuel cell sedan.

Inside the cabin, there’s plenty of high-quality trim and leather-clad surfaces, including two fully-adjustable, reclining executive seats in the rear, complete with the kind of features you’d expect from a luxury sedan. Up front, there’s a holographic centre console display featuring Toyota’s advanced human machine interface that allows the driver or passengers to interact with the car’s infotainment system through gestures rather than physical touch.

Luxury is key inside, with fully-reclining executive seats.

Luxury is key inside, with fully-reclining executive seats.

There’s also autonomous self-driving functionality, a detail which Toyota didn’t go into in great detail but which is a must-have for any concept car debuting this year in Tokyo.

Overall, the Lexus LF-FC is one of the more convincing concept cars we’ve seen emerge this year in Tokyo. But like the Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell sedan, the Hyundai Tucson FCV and of course, the recently-launched Honda Clarity FCV, the biggest challenge facing this vehicle entering into production is one of cost.

At the moment, hydrogen fuel cell stacks are incredibly expensive to produce. Made by hand in relatively small volumes, no single automaker has yet managed to achieve the breakthrough of construction which would make mass-production a commercial reality. While that will inevitably happen at some point in the future, it does mean any hydrogen fuel cell vehicle brought to market in the next few years under the Lexus LS badge would likely carry a hefty six-figure price tag.

And that’s before we even discuss the relative merits and difficulties associated with operating a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle in an environment where there’s not yet a robust, reliable fueling infrastructure or a way to cleanly produce large amounts of hydrogen en-masse from renewable sources.

If we ignore those two very difficult thorns however, we’re still impressed by this concept car. Are you? Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.


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