LOS ANGELES (Bloomberg) -- Toyota Motor Corp., the biggest seller of hybrid cars, said it has cut the cost of making fuel-cell vehicles by about 90 percent since the mid-2000s and may be able to price its first retail hydrogen model at about $50,000.
The first model will be a sedan with driving range equal to a gasoline-powered car, “with some extra cost,” Yoshihiko Masuda, Toyota's managing director for advanced autos, said in an interview. The Japanese carmaker has cut production costs to about one-tenth of earlier estimates that ran as high as $1 million per car and would need to cut current costs by about half before starting retail sales, he said.
“Our target is, we don't lose money with introduction of the vehicle,” Masuda said in Torrance, California, where Toyota's U.S. sales unit is based. “Production cost should be covered within the price of the vehicle.”
Offering hydrogen cars that don't sell at a loss may boost support for the technology, which has lagged behind electric cars in U.S. research funding amid criticism it's too expensive. Toyota, General Motors Co., Honda Motor Co., Daimler AG and Hyundai Motor Co. have all said they will be ready to sell fuel- cell vehicles to retail customers by about 2015.
Toyota plans to sell an “affordable” model in the U.S. and elsewhere, the company has said without providing details. Were the carmaker to set a U.S. price at about $50,000, the market for the vehicles would be “small, but with some support,” Masuda said, without elaborating.
Masuda declined to discuss Toyota's sales volume goal for the car.
California, Japan, Germany and South Korea are promoting fuel-cell vehicles to help curb greenhouse gasses, as the only exhaust from the cars is water vapor. Fuel cells, layers of plastic film coated with platinum sandwiched between metal plates, make electricity in a chemical process combining hydrogen and oxygen.
Toyota cut expenses to make the vehicles by reducing platinum use to about one-third the previous level and finding cheaper ways to produce the thin film used in the fuel cells and the carbon-fiber hydrogen fuel tanks, Masuda said yesterday at a conference in Long Beach, Calif., held by the National Hydrogen Association, a trade group that lobbies for the fuel.
Shifting from low-volume assembly to mass-scale production would lead to further cost reductions, he said.
Hydrogen vehicles are typically larger and offer greater range and faster fueling than battery models. A lack of fuel stations, high production costs and limited durability have slowed their introduction beyond test fleets.
Honda has leased FCX Clarity fuel-cell sedans to 19 Los Angeles-area retail customers since 2008 and GM has more than 100 fuel cell-powered Equinox sport-utility vehicles that it loans to individuals and fleets.
“Our target is at least 100,000 miles, 10 years” of use for each vehicle, Toyota's Masuda said.
The U.S. Energy Department gave out more than $10 billion in low-cost loans and grants for advanced battery and electric-car production in 2009, while cutting hydrogen funds to $68 million. Congress later raised the amount for hydrogen research to about $190 million.
“Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, and we can have it forever,” California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said yesterday at the conference in Long Beach. “We need to wake up the federal government.”
Charles Freese, GM's executive director of global powertrain engineering, said an initial goal for the start of retail sales is to have about 40 hydrogen fuel stations in Southern California, or four times the current number. That would be enough to accommodate about 15 million drivers in the region, Freese said in Long Beach.