Toyota: Kick-starting Mirai

Discussion in 'Fuel Cell Vehicles' started by usbseawolf2000, Mar 18, 2016.

  1. usbseawolf2000

    usbseawolf2000 HSD PhD

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    A great article. I changed the title because I think it suits better.

    Only nine months after the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011 struck Japan, Toyota engineer Yoshikazu Tanaka was told by his bosses to develop a fuel-cell vehicle. For Toyota, the project represented a big hydrogen gamble and its timing was far from ideal.

    The Japanese car group had seen its net profit halved as it grappled with disrupted supply chains, higher electricity costs and the yen’s surge to record highs. General Motors and Volkswagen had overtaken it in cars sold.

    Tanaka, who was in charge of the Prius plug-in hybrid at the time, also questioned whether it made sense for the company to take on an enormous risk in such an unfavourable environment. Soon afterwards, though, he reached a different conclusion.

    “Dinosaurs became extinct because they could not adapt to the environment,” Tanaka says. “I realised not taking the risk would be a bigger risk for us. There is only extinction ahead if no action is taken.”

    The apocalyptic forecast from Tanaka echoes a general sense of crisis shared by the global auto industry as it wrestles to build cars that do not harm the environment. Auto executives say the race to develop greener and safer vehicles is likely to generate the biggest technological revolution in the industry since the birth of gasoline-powered cars more than a century ago.

    “We have no time to lose,” says Takeshi Uchiyamada, chairman of Toyota and also known as the father of the Prius hybrid car. “With the existing pace of transformation, we will not be able to keep up with the speed of destruction of this beautiful and diverse planet.”

    The Toyota scheme comes as rivals such as Tesla and Nissan are banking on battery-powered electric vehicles. Volkswagen had placed a heavy bet on clean diesels, which now face a backlash after the German manufacturer admitted to cheating in US emissions tests of its diesel vehicles.

    The Mirai has brought fuel-cell vehicles to the forefront of Toyota’s efforts to achieve what it calls “sustainable mobility”. But even at the Japanese company, fuel-cell vehicles had long been regarded as low priority compared with the Prius gasoline-electric hybrid, which established Toyota’s image as a pioneer in fuel-saving technology.

    So when Tanaka was assigned in 2012 to develop the Mirai as chief engineer, the decision prompted scepticism inside Toyota. With the company’s financial conditions tight, the message from his bosses was also clear: the spending budget should be kept as small as possible.

    “The hurdle was already very high to commercially launch a fuel-cell vehicle,” Tanaka says. “But we had to beat our brains to achieve that as efficiently and with as little money as possible.” To deal with the stress of the situation, Tanaka maintained a disciplined regime of running 5km each day before having his lunch in the cafeteria.

    Looking back, the Mirai’s chief engineer now says the challenge actually helped to draw the company together. He asked for help from a wide range of departments to make sure his team could produce results using as few prototypes as possible to keep the costs down. From research that began with about three engineers in the 1990s, the Mirai project has expanded to include about 800 employees at Toyota.

    “By raising the hurdle, everyone inevitably got pulled into the project,” he recalls. “In that sense, it really became a company-wide project.”

    Toyota executives concede that sales of the $57,500 Mirai are just one part of the way towards the company’s goal of building a “hydrogen society”. Mass market penetration of fuel-cell vehicles cannot be achieved with the efforts of the company alone. To expand the market, Toyota released its fuel-cell patents last year, echoing a similar move by Tesla on electric vehicle patents.

    One of the biggest problems is the lack of refuelling stations. The infrastructure has been slow to develop because hydrogen stations are far more expensive than petrol stations to build.

    Toyota hopes the pace of infrastructure construction will pick up as more rivals enter the market. Honda, which has been collaborating with General Motors, plans to release its fuel-cell car later this year while a Nissan vehicle, jointly developed with Daimler and Ford, is expected in 2017.​

    Much more at: Toyota: Emission control - FT.com
     
  2. hill

    hill High Fiber Member

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    That's almost incredible . . . . the country that's planning to harvest COAL, to run their japanese hydrogen fleet. Gee . . . Thanks Takeshi-san for your earth friendly concern (shaking head)
    scheme . . . the word is so very apropo. Even as Toyota's 'scheme' involved slamming plugins's ... the competition that's totally killing them competitive wise ... and even as Tesla pumped out over 50,000 units last year. .... we have this most recent 'scheme' ... decrying how horrible VW is - for their pollution and DISHONESTY ... even as the coal fired hydrogen project attempts to get under way - and hydrogen's dishonest production goals and infrastructure failures are passed of as part of the plan. Talk about calling the 'scheme' pot - black. wow. I can hardly wait for the next episode of the Toyota/hydrogen spin.

    Not to leave all with a downturn in their mouth - the more successfull plugin models (not just nissan & tesla, as suggested above) continue to roll of the assembly line, in even greater numbers and ever more models ... even as gas prices remain flat !!
    .
     
    #2 hill, Mar 18, 2016
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2016
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  3. austingreen

    austingreen Senior Member

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    From the OP linked financial times article
    Image if they had invested that in tesla instead of only $50M. GM wasting less than half of that on fuel cells is one reason they went bankrupt. Good thing Toyota had deep pockets and friendly governments.
    I agree with akio here. Some at toyota have become very short sighted when it comes to hydrogen;)
     
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  4. hill

    hill High Fiber Member

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    my interpretation of that demand meant for Toyota to stop spending Toyota's OWN money & get more of the taxpayer's money. I don't imagine Toyota's own version of Captain Ahab will quit until much much later.
    .
     
  5. austingreen

    austingreen Senior Member

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    No! It sounded like we already spent billions, lets try to get something out there on the cheap. They had the basics from seeing what handa had done with the clarity and 20 years of R&D up to the fchv-adv.

    What did they do on the cheap? Probably the whole battery/motor stuff was grabbed from other projects. Most of the people were grabbed from other projects. Instead of tooling for mass production they used the lexus LFA factory for serial low volume parts. That probably made each car more expensive to make, but you didn't spend hundreds of millions on a line, only to lose it all if you only end up make 5 or 6 thousand cars.

    Now I think the japanese government is promising orders so they may gear up for mass production in a few years. Then again that tesla model 3 and gen II leaf and volt will be out and selling. The japanese government could change there mind, and california customers may not buy even the 3000 allocated. There is big risk to spending anouther billion to have a better mass produced car in 2020.
     
  6. OldNSlow

    OldNSlow Junior Member

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  7. bisco

    bisco cookie crumbler

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    i'm on the fence...
     
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