Personal: Batting 1,000

Personal: Batting 1,000

Clean Fleet Report Hits Milestone

Something special happened this week and we just want to let you know. Clean Fleet Report published its 1,000th story. That’s quite a landmark for a start-up, but we’re just getting going. We published more than 200 stories last year as we moved into more in-depth coverage of fuel economy and advanced technology news. The 1,000th story—and the two that bracket it—are a good way of telling the Clean Fleet Report story.

2017 Toyota Mirai

2017 Toyota Mirai–a fuel cell pioneer

Story 1,000 – Toyota Mirai Hits 3,000 Sales

This news story is a good shorthand for the biggest change of this past year’s expanded coverage. In order to bring you more information on the fast-changing world of zero and near-zero emission vehicles. In 2006, when this publication started, fuel cells were essentially science experiments. They worked, but any vision of them as a day-to-day vehicle seemed like some science fiction fantasy. Fast forward to today and, in California, you have a choice of three FCEVs you can lease (or even buy in the case of the Mirai). More models are on the horizon and the fueling infrastructure continues to grow. Several of our staff have had the chance to drive and live with hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (John in the Tucson and Mirai, Steve in the Mirai, me in the Clarity). We have a feeling we’ll be reporting on fuel cells more and more as we head to the end of the decade.

Story 999—Road Test of the 238-mile Range Chevrolet Bolt EV

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV–breaking through the 200-mile range barrier

The breakthrough Bolt is celebrating it’s first full year on the market, which we celebrated with our first full road test. Of course, we haven’t been ignoring Bolt news during the year as it racked up more than 23,000 sales. Beyond the test drives and news stories, Clean Fleet Report has been bringing a more personal story about this amazing car through staff Steve Schaefer, who put his own money on the line to lease a Bolt a little more than a year ago. His journey with the car illuminates more details of where the EV market is going.

Story 1,001—Road Test of the Toyota Highlander Hybrid

2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Hybrids keep expanding their reach–and capabilitie

The first story of our second millennium of stories is a good window into how far industry has come. SUVs are hot and even though gas prices are low, companies remain focused on turning out more and more efficient models. The Highlander Hybrid is one of eight in the Toyota lineup (one of which, the hot-selling Prius Prime, is a plug-in hybrid). More important, it’s one of more than a dozen SUVs available as hybrids, plug-in hybrids, full electric or fuel cell vehicles. This changing world is the one we’re here to document, offering you insight into the choices that are out there in vehicles and technologies.

In those three stories you can see a bit of the breadth of news we’ll be covering this year. We’ll add in event coverage and exclusive interviews from our experienced staff. Enjoy the ride!

We always welcome your thoughts and insights as well at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com. 

News: San Ramon’s New Hydrogen Station Is Open for Business

News: San Ramon’s New Hydrogen Station Is Open for Business

Infrastructure Grows as More Fuel Cell Cars Hit the Streets

Along with plug-in electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel cell cars have a major part to play in the movement away from the internal combustion engine. The latest fuel cell cars look and perform just like “regular cars,” and you can drive one home today from a local Toyota, Honda or Hyundai dealership “if.” The “if” is the impediment to mass adoption because of the still fledgling hydrogen fueling infrastructure.

Hydrogen station

“Gassing” up with hydrogen is becoming easier

To help remedy that situation, the State of California is building 100 hydrogen fuel stations. As part of that effort, San Ramon (on the eastern side of the San Francisco Bay) now hosts station #29. It’s an attractive and spacious new facility that just opened in the sprawling Bishop Ranch industrial park, which just happens to be the headquarters of oil giant Chevron. The land for the station is leased from Toyota for $1 a year (the new station borders on Toyota’s Northern California zone office). It’s very convenient for refueling the manufacturer’s Mirai hybrid sedans, although any hydrogen-powered car is welcome.

Station #29 is one of seven stations slated for the San Francisco Bay Area in the next year (or two, the process of commissioning and building a station is long and not always predictable). Ross Koble, Toyota’s Advanced Technology PR representative, said that in the two years the Mirai has been on the road, Toyota (which pays for the fuel for leased or purchased cars, has noticed that owners appear to be extending the time between fill-ups. He thought that indicated a learning curve as owners became more comfortable with fuel cell technology and the refueling infrastructure, reducing the fear of running out of fuel.  

The Ribbon Is Cut

I attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony, where a group of the people responsible for bringing this new community asset to San Ramon each spoke to an appreciative crowd.

Hydrogen station

The hydrogen station has the look and feel of the familiar gas station

We first heard from Bill Elrick, executive director of the California Fuel Cell Partnership, an industry/government collaboration that has worked since 1999 to expand the market for fuel cell hydrogen-powered vehicles. Elrick touted the multiple benefits of the station—environmental, economic and for energy independence. He thanked the California Air Resources Board (CARB), which has been instrumental in promoting the market for fuel cell vehicles with cash incentives on the vehicles and a regulation that encourages automakers to produce zero emission vehicles like fuel cells.

Michael Beckman, VP/Head – Key Customers & Hydrogen Fueling at Linde, the folks whose technology powers the station, thanked the assembled city and county representatives for getting the job done. “It’s tough to build in California,” Beckman said, but he was very happy with the outcome. Linde’s Ionic Compression technology is found in many applications, including the sprawling A/C Transit yard in Emeryville, which fuels 13 fuel cell buses, and a large facility at the BMW factory in Spartanburg, South Carolina. They also built the public hydrogen station in West Sacramento.

The Politicians

It’s not a community ribbon-cutting without the appropriate dignitaries, so San Ramon Mayor Bill Clarkson spoke briefly. Democratic State Senator Steve Glaser, who represents California’s 7th Senate District, praised the state’s aggressive goals and provision of incentives for alternate fuels. Republican Assemblymember Catharine Baker, who represents the 16th California Assembly District, noted the bipartisan agreement in support of this technology as it moves into cities and towns around the state.

Candace Anderson, Contra Costa County District 2 supervisor, hailed the public/private partnership that has made the air in California cleaner today. She presented a certificate of appreciation for the building of Station #29. I spoke privately with San Ramon Assistant City Manager Eric Figueroa, who was pleased to have the state-of-the-art facility in his community.

The Cars

Representing the auto industry, Dawn Mercer, National Manager, Advanced Technology Vehicles Marketing, stepped up to the microphone. She explained that Toyota has been working on fuel cells for 20 years, since the days of the first Prius, and was sanguine about the growth of fuel cell vehicles. About 2,100 Toyota Mirai fuel cell cars are tooling around California (60 percent are in the Los Angeles area, where the infrastructure is more developed than in the north) already, compared to 10 million hybrids on roads all over the world. The fuel cells are sold by only eight Toyota dealers, four in the south and four in the north.

Fuel-cell vehicles run on electricity, but unlike a plug-in electric car, which is charged from an electric source, they generate the electricity in the vehicle itself. The process involves combining the hydrogen fuel with oxygen, creating energy, with the sole byproduct being H2O—water. A Toyota Mirai can get around 312 miles on a tankful of hydrogen, and it only takes a few minutes to fill it. This replicates the experience most drivers are accustomed to at their local gas station.

Hydrogen station

The Hyundai Tucson SUV is one of three fuel cell EVs on the market

The issue for early adopter hydrogen car owners has been finding a station, so placing a facility in the heart of this prosperous area is a good way to boost sales of the three hydrogen cars currently available: the Toyota Mirai and Honda Clarity midsize sedans and the Hyundai Tucson compact crossover.

Chris Weeks, director of transportation for Bishop Ranch, told Clean Fleet Report he felt San Ramon was a great spot for station #29. “There’s plenty of disposable income here, people have long commutes, and the types of people who live and work around here appreciate the new technology,” he said. Weeks drives a fuel cell Hyundai Tucson.

The sales manager for one of the eight Toyota dealers selling the Mirai, Russ Mobley, told Clean Fleet Report that some of his customers are converts from Tesla’s electric cars—some trading in their Model S and others abandoning the long line for the just-introduced Model 3 to move to an advanced technology they can drive home now. He also added that the availability of the HOV-lane sticker, which allows a Mirai driver to use the carpool lane while driving solo, is a major motivator.

Toyota executives noted that they are finding Mirai owners forming ad hoc affinity groups, sharing their experiences on social media.

The Station Process

John Kato, deputy director of the California Energy Commission, also spoke to the crowd. The California Energy Commission is tasked by state law with developing and deploying alternative and renewable fuels and advanced transportation technologies to help meet California’s goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and petroleum dependence in the transportation sector. The Energy Commission is responsible for building California’s network of 100 hydrogen stations; so far, they have funded 60 stations, of which 31 are currently open.

Hydrogen station

Some FCEVs stand out more than others

Later, Kato and I chatted about the other area of hydrogen technology that needs development. Although there are many ways to produce hydrogen fuel, it is an energy intensive process today, making it less sustainable. Kato is hopeful that the use of renewable energy generated from biomethane from waste treatment and landfills will help lead to more clean hydrogen production in California soon.

The new station’s pump looks much like a modern gas dispensing unit, with a slot to pay and a small keypad. It also features a screen with a short video explaining how to use the station. Regular patrons will presumably skip that part, but it’s good to learn to use the station properly. It’s a simple process.

The happy crowd had a chance to test drive hydrogen vehicles after the presentation, although some attendees were already proud owners. The presence of hydrogen station #29 should help more people in the Bay Area make the decision to go green with hydrogen.

Note: Michael Coates contributed to this article.

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News: SimpleFuel Wins Hydrogen Refuel Competition

News: SimpleFuel Wins Hydrogen Refuel Competition

Government Contest Seeks to Advance Fuel Use

The U.S. Department of Energy, in collaboration with Hydrogen Education Foundation, launched two years ago the Hydrogen Refuel H-Prize Competition to build the on-site hydrogen (H2) generation refueling systems.

In 2015, the organizers announced finalists to the competition and evaluated their solutions to the task of bringing hydrogen refueling to homes and companies and making it affordable.

The finalists had seven months to finish and install their systems at their choice of locations before testing began. Each system had scores for their dispensing pressure and time, their number of daily standard fills for cars, the tested availability, total cost of the system and its installation, and the direct cost per kg for every user.

Recently, the organizers announced SimpleFuel as the winner of the $1 million competition prize. People from Ivy’s Energy Solutions, McPhy Energy North America, and PDC Machines make up Team SimpleFuel. Its headquarters is in Waltham, Massachusetts.

The onsite SimpleFuel hydrogen station is so small it can fit in a garage of an ordinary residence. The mechanism behind their project involves electrolysis, which is the separation of hydrogen and oxygen that make up water molecules.

Electrolysis for hydrogen production

Simplefuel, hydrogen refueling, h@ infrastructure

Hydrogen refueling replicates the gas station experience

The unit operates through a combination of electrolyzer, compressor, and dispenser, with water as feedstock. While there aren’t any further details available on the hydrogen station’s proprietary electrolysis process, it basicly involves the use of electricity to split water into the needed hydrogen and oxygen molecules.

The electrolyzer used in the station consists of an electrolyte that separates a cathode and an anode. Depending on the kind of electrolyte material used, an electrolyzer may function differently from another. There are currently three types of electrolyzers: polymer electrolyte membrane, alkaline, and solid oxide.

With an electrolyzer, the carbon fiber tank of the SimpleFuel can deliver around 5 to 10 kilograms of hydrogen daily (the same fuel capacity of a Toyota Mirai), while oxygen is the only byproduct of the process.

Hydrogen station winner

The SimpleFuel can produce up to one kilogram of fuel in more or less 15 minutes and has a 700-bar fueling capacity. It is a bit weighty—larger than an EV charger or a gas pump—but it is solid when considering its functions.

It has the potential to deploy at different locations and has regular hookup utilities for water and electricity. It has an initial estimated cost of $200,000 for installation in businesses and public spaces, but eventually hopes to become affordable for individual owners to acquire.

It’s expected that utility companies will be the first to install units such as this, just like they have installed EV charging infrastructure in many locations.

A small unit like this can offer convenience for drivers using fuel cell vehicles that run on hydrogen, particularly while the H2 fueling infrastructure is underdeveloped in many states. Further, it could be economical for companies that use fleets of hydrogen-powered machines and vehicles.

Takeaway

Building infrastructure that can support hydrogen fueling of individual owners will eventually help increase the demand for this kind of renewable fuel. Supporting hydrogen refueling is promoting a sustainable future that will surely benefit younger generations.

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2014 LA Auto Show: A Hydrogen Milestone

2014 LA Auto Show: A Hydrogen Milestone

The Car of the Future Shows Up Again

Last year it was two concept vehicles and one surprise — a fuel cell vehicle going on sale sooner than anyone expected. This year (2014 LA Auto Show) one was one fuel cell is already on sale (albeit in small numbers), two are about to hit the market and two surprise concepts debuted at the show. Add in the buzz about California’s hydrogen-station-building frenzy and the fuel cell zero emission vehicle was back in the news again.

2015,toyota,Mirai,fuel cell,hydrogen, zero emission vehicle

Toyota throws down a stylish fuel cell

For years derided as the future technology that was always 20 years in the future, hydrogen fuel cells appear to be making a serious run at becoming a relevant alternative to the internal combustion engine and the 2014 LA Auto Show. Here’s a run-down of the news.

  • Hyundai is celebrating the end of its first calendar year of TucsonFCEV sales. The numbers are still low as even with tens of thousands of web-based “handraisers,” converting that interest into sales is challenging because of the lack of infrastructure. The deal for those close to the few existing stations remains as much of a no-brainer as some of the low-lease EV ones—$499/month for a three-year lease with $2,999 down and all fuel and maintenance included.

    honda,clarity,fuel cell, hydrogen, zero emissions

    There are Honda Clarity fuel cell vehicles already on the road

  • Toyota made a big splash with journalists around the show (though not with a press conference at the show), introducing the production version of its coming Mirai sedan. We first saw the sedan in the flesh a few months ago and recognize what Toyota is up to. As they did with the Prius, the intent is to present a distinctive vehicle that will give owners immediate recognition. The Mirai (“future” in Japanese) is no Camry when it comes to styling, so the early adopters and techies who grab one with be spending a lot of time answering questions about their unique vehicle when it goes on sale in 2015. Pricing was also announced–$57,500, pretty expensive for a Toyota, but the company is matching Hyundai’s $499/month lease deal. Toyota also made it clear that that the next generation’s hydrogen-powered drivetrain (due around 2020) would be between one-third and one-fourth the cost of this one (and as a metric the company told Automotive News the current fuel cell system is one-twentieth the cost of the previous generation vehicle, which first debuted in 2008). Battery prognosticators should take note. The cost reduction curve typically doesn’t accelerate, but slows down over time. Not surprisingly, it’s the 2020 timeframe when Toyota expects to ramp up production from the hundreds planned for the current Mirai to “tens of thousands.”
  • Honda also went outside the LA show, showcasing its production fuel cell sedan to media in Japan the same week (and promising to bring it to Detroit next month). Like Toyota, Honda will present a car unlikely to be mistaken for the new Accord when it hits the market in 2016. It features futuristic styling reminiscent of the original Insight, but in a larger scale. Honda’s launch date was moved back from earlier estimates, but Honda underscored its commitment to make a full-court press on FCEVs, touting progress on the fuel-cell stock that has 60 percent more power packed in a one-third smaller package than the previous generation. Honda also announced it was loaning money to one of the builders of the growing hydrogen station network to expand the number of stations that would be built.
  • Surprising everyone at the show was Audi, which normally talks about its efficient gasoline and diesel powerplants while promising plug-ins in the near future. The company unveiled
    Audi,LA Auto Show,A7,f-tron,fuel cell

    An LA hydrogen surprise from Audi

    an A7 h-tron, a fuel cell model that also had an 8.8-kWh battery pack capable of providing its own launch power prior to the fuel cell kicking in. Audi’s point was that true performance was possible in a fuel cell with the set-up providing power to all four wheels through front and rear electric motors.

  • Volkswagen added its own surprise (of course the parent company of Audi and VW is the same so there was undoubtedly some common technology involved) when it unveiled a hydrogen version of the new Golf Sportwagen. The HyMotion concept borrows its electric motor from the just-introduced e-Golf and uses a lithium-ion battery pack from the Jetta Hybrid. VW’s fielded fuel cell cars before, but they were built on a small SUV platform. The smaller package demonstrates some of the advances in packaging VW has made with the technology.
  • The news thatundergirdsall of the automakers optimism about fuel cell technology, at least in California, is the state’s dedication of $20 million per year to fundthe construction of a 100-station fueling infrastructure during the next decade. Legislation passed and signed by Gov. Brown dedicated that amount as a minimum investment by the state to help jumpstart the construction and running of hydrogen stations in the early years when theremay not be enough vehicles to make the business viable. The state’s Energy Commission has contracts out and expects to have more than 50 stations operating by the end of 2015. One–third of the hydrogen supplied in the stateis mandated to come from renewable sources. Fuel cell car buyers will be eligible forsubstantial financial
    Honda,FCEV,sketch,

    Honda FCEV sketch

    incentives from the state and federal government tax credits. Estimates the state gathered from automakers are that there will be 18,500 FCEVs in California by 2020.

  • A couple weeks after the show Hyundai’s fuel cell “engine” was named to WardsAuto World’s 10 Best Engines of 2015. The propulsion unit was singled out as the editors said for “slipping the most advanced automotive technology imaginable into a roomy family vehicle and making it all very consumer friendly.”

The fuel cell news wasn’t a clarion call, especially among all of the low-volume, high-end models several automakers were touting at the 2014 LA Auto Show, but it was significant for that segment of the green market. One clear signal is that the pricing of fuel cell cars appears to be following the track of battery electrics, where a monthly lease rate becomes the standard for most of cars in the segment. Second to that is the solid commitment from major automakers (so far without the whining about losing money on each car they sell or limiting production to the numbers required to meet California ZEV requirements) appears unchanged. All of the major automakers either have their own fuel cell program or are part of a group of companies pursuing the technology.

Here’s how the companies have paired up to bring fuel cell cars to market by sharing development costs and gain some economies of scale before true mass production.

  • Toyota and BMW are working together.
  • Honda and GM have a working relationship.
  • Daimler, Ford and Nissan have an alliance.
  • VW and Hyundai appear to be going it alone.
  • Of the big guys, Fiat Chrysler may be the odd man out with no announced programs or alliances.
Hyundai,fuel cell,electric car,motor

Hyundai’s head starter-A 10-best engine

Akio Toyoda, Toyota Motor’s president and the latest successor from the auto company’s founding family, told Bloomberg Businessweek that “there’s room for both plug-in electrics and hydrogen cars.” He dismisses doubters: “Fifteen years ago they said the same thing about the Prius. Since, then…we have sold seven million (total hybrids) of them.”

Skepticism about the ultimate success of fuel cells in the market remains, but expect the push forward is going to get stronger in 2015. As John Addison showed in his review of the plug-in models available at the show, a strong “green” undercurrent is flowing in the automotive market. The hydrogen wave appears to be just beginning to crest.

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Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars Go On Sale in 2014!

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars Go On Sale in 2014!

Hyundai, Honda, Toyota Lead With Zero Emission Contenders

Hyundai-fuel cell-hydrogen-Toyota-Honda

Hyundai First Fuel Cell In The Showroom

Story & Photos (except Toyota) By Michael Coates

Electric cars running on hydrogen, creating their own electricity as they drive, are officially no longer the cars of the distant future. As Hyundai Motor America president and CEO John Frafcik said last week: “The future is much closer than you think.” Come spring, you can go to a select Southern California Hyundai dealer (one near the growing hydrogen station infrastructure), put down $2999 and drive away in a Tucson fuel cell car, a compact SUV with water as its only tailpipe emission, a 300-mile range on a tank of free (for the life of the $499/month loan) fuel, and free Concierge Service (like that offered with the Equus model). In other words, Hyundai is ushering in the hydrogen age and doing its best to make it an easy transition for the early adopters who choose to shift to zero emission driving. It made the announcement at the Los Angeles Auto Show, creating a stir among the more mundane introductions of conventional cars and trucks.

Hyundai, which has made a commitment to produce several thousand Tucson FCEVs on the same assembly line as its gas-powered cousin, is not alone as both Honda and Toyota will have their own fuel cells on sale in 2015. Both companies showed off concept cars hinting at the look of their 2015 FCEV sedans. Honda’s car, shown at the LA Auto Show a few hours before Hyundai’s announcement, was a futuristic design that will probably be tamed down for production, but clearly takes a page from its initial foray into hybrids with the 2000 Insight. Toyota’s FCEV, which was introduced at the Tokyo Auto Show, featured more conventional styling but carried the same promise as Hyundai of a consumer-friendly market approach.

Others Will Join In The Fuel Cell Parade

 

Of course, Mercedes, General Motors, Nissan, Ford, BMW and Volkswagen are not far behind the three leaders. All have their fuel cell cars ready to roll out (and some have done limited marketing as have Hyundai, Honda and Toyota) and are expected to hit the market prior to 2020.

The big hang up for fuel cells has been the refueling infrastructure. Unlike pure electric cars, which can rely on the ubiquity of electricity for easy, if slow, refueling, FCEVs need a network of stations to truly become a technology that can replace the internal combustion engine. Governments in Germany, Japan and Korea (and a few other spots in the world) have committed to build that infrastructure and California fell in line this year when it passed a bill to fund up to 100 stations, most of which will be located in Southern California where the cars will see their initial rollout.

Early adopters opting for the 2015 Tucson FCEV will get quite a deal. For comparison, we ran the numbers for a base gas-powered 2014 Tucson in Southern California. A 36-month lease with $2,999 down would give you $544/month payments – and you’d have to pay for your own gas and service!

Honda and Toyota didn’t have the retail details that Hyundai offered, but they made it clear that 2015 would be the introduction date of their fuel cell vehicles, which in the U.S. also will be targeted to the Southern California region with an infrastructure to support the cars.

The Hyundai Fuel Cell Deal

 

At the introduction, Hyundai’s Krafcik ticked off the advantages his company sees in fuel cell vehicles, compared with pure battery electrics. He also said there was plenty of room in the market for both types of zero emission vehicles, but FCEVs offered:

  • Driving range of 300 miles,
  • Capable of refueling in less than 10 minutes,
  • Minimal reduction in daily utility compared with its gasoline counterpart,
  • Minimal cold-weather effects, and
  • Extensive crash, fire and leak testing.

What fuel cells share with battery electrics is instantaneous torque from its electric motor, good daily reliability and long-term durability, few moving parts, quiet operation and zero greenhouse gas emissions from operation. Krafcik noted that a UC Irvine study done this year found the well-to-wheels emissions of fuel cell vehicles to be lower not only than gas or diesel vehicles, but also battery electrics.

In addition to the straight sales pitch, Krafcik also said that the Tucson FCEVs will be available as rentals through Enterprise.

Honda Fuel Cell Concept

Honda-fuel cell-electric car

Honda Gets Zoomy With Its Next Fuel Cell

 

Honda, while adamant about the 2015 launch of its next generation fuel cell car, was less committal about planned volumes or price at the LA Auto Show. Honda has been leasing its FCX Clarity fuel cell for several years, but in very small volumes. Honda reviewed its history getting the public into its fuel cell cars, noting that the next generation’s fuel cell stack (the “engine” for an FCEV) will have a 60 percent power density improvement over the one used in the Clarity. The stack also is 30 percent smaller than its predecessor and costs have been reduced.

The Honda FCEV is a five-passenger sedan, similar in exterior size to its current FCX Clarity, but with a more spacious interior because of the smaller fuel cell stack. Honda didn’t release exterior dimensions of the concept, but said its stack would yield more than 100 KW of power output and would deliver a driving range of more than 300 miles.

Toyota Fuel Cell Concept

 

Like Honda, Toyota chose an auto show to unveil a concept version of the fuel cell sedan it will launch in 2015. The Camry-size four-passenger sedan, unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show last week, is a less radical design than Honda’s, appearing to be much closer to the production intent for the production version. Its released dimensions indicate it is slightly longer overall than a Camry (191.7 inches compared to 189.2 for for the Camry), has a wheelbase that is almost identical and is about a half-inch narrower. Toyota said its new fuel cell stack has a power density similar to Honda’s at 3 kW/liter, which they said represents more than twice that of its current stocks. The company also claimed reduced size and costs. Automotive News quoted Toyota officials as saying that fuel cell cars by 2020 will cost roughly the same as a plug-in hybrid to produce.

Toyota-fuel cell-electric vehicle

Toyota’s 2015 FCEV Concept

 

 

 

 

 

 

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