Japanese Auto Makers Ramp Up Battery, Hydrogen Plans | Techno stream

Japanese Auto Makers Ramp Up Battery, Hydrogen Plans

28 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Auto power play: Japan’s hydrogen car vs China’s battery drive.

On Thursday, the Japanese automaker unveiled the production version of its Clarity Fuel Cell sedan, which it will begin leasing to customers in Japan in March. Tucked away in what felt like a giant refrigerator at the back of the Toyota stand was one of the most interesting – and possibly most important – concepts of the Tokyo Motor Show.“Why change names that have equity?” So said Alan Mulally when he was chief executive at Ford when questioned about the possibility of dropping the Taurus and Fiesta names.Tokyo – Asia’s two automotive powerhouses, Japan and China, are jostling for supremacy in how future electric cars should generate their power – from batteries or hydrogen-powered fuel-cells. Toyota’s wild FCV Plus concept is fuel-cell powered, much like many cars at this year’s show, but it envisions a world where cars interact with each other, and even share power.

In a potentially high-stakes clash reminiscent of Sony versus Panasonic in the Beta-VHS video war in the 1980s, the winner could enjoy years of domination if their technology is adopted as a global standard by other manufacturers. But the styling is almost beside the point; the entire point of this car—an idea Honda’s been kicking around for nearly three decades—is the hydrogen fuel cell, about the size of a V6 engine and stuffed under the hood, that keeps it going. Honda claims that it’s possible to fuel-up the Clarity’s dual tanks with hydrogen in about three minutes, giving it a range of approximately 300 miles. The key question is which will power more mainstream cars – the market dominated today by the likes of Toyota, General Motors and Volkswagen. “We’re reaching a crossroads,” says James Chao, Shanghai-based Asia-Pacific managing director for industry consultant IHS Automotive. “It’s difficult to exaggerate the significance of the choice between batteries and hydrogen. “Billions of dollars will be invested in one or the other and may determine which companies will lead the industry through the end of this century.” China, a major oil importer and blighted by air pollution, is pushing for all-electric (EV) cars, offering incentives to buyers, forcing global carmakers to share their technology, and opening its market to tech firms and others to produce electric vehicles. Inside, a spacious, bubble like cabin seats four in a futuristic, icy nest, and an array of virtual displays, including the entire windshield, bombards the driver and all occupants with a variety of information.

The car carries a battery pack with twice the capacity of its existing Leaf electric car, which would expand the driving range significantly if commercialized. For a decade, Beijing has pushed for the EV to become a mass-market car, hoping a low entry barrier will allow its relative latecomers to close a competitive gap with global rivals who have a century’s head-start in traditional combustion engines. “(China President) Xi Jinping explained it very well, saying that developing new energy vehicles is the Chinese motor industry’s only road to grow from being big to being strong,” Xu Heyi, chairman of Beijing Automotive Group and a high-ranking Communist Party official, told reporters recently. These developments and others, at the first big industry gathering since Volkswagen’s admission in September that it used software to manipulate diesel-emissions test results, underscore how Japan’s leading car makers could stand to benefit as the auto sector seeks alternatives to internal combustion engines. Design-wise, the Clarity is a winner, integrating aerodynamic enhancements into its shape without producing an overwrought styling mess, like the similarly hydrogen-powered Toyota Mirai.

Japan, though, sees the future differently and is investing heavily in fuel-cell technology and infrastructure as part of a national policy to foster what it calls a ‘hydrogen society’, where the zero-emission fuel would power homes and vehicles. “It’s not that we’re not doing anything about the EV. They combine all the benefits of battery electric vehicles like the Tesla Model S and Nissan Leaf—zero tailpipe emissions, excellent torque—without the drawbacks of limited range or waiting around for your battery to charge. The FCV Plus won’t reach production in its current form, but it could lead the way for a small version of the Mirai FCV (fuel cell vehicle), similar to what the Prius C did to the Prius lineup. It’s an off-beat design that blends cues from the latest Civic, scaled up to an Accord-like size. (Call us fans of the side skirt, too.) The Clarity’s greatest selling point, from a design perspective, might be its interior, which is more luxurious than any Honda of recent memory.

We understand he is still with Honda but has been transferred elsewhere, which might indicate something of the fierceness of the row over the direction of this whole project. Technically speaking, EV is a relatively easier technology,” said Koei Saga, Toyota’s senior managing officer in charge of vehicle powertrain technology. “But it needs to evolve. Toyota TM 0.91 % began selling its first consumer fuel-cell vehicle, the Mirai, last year and will start selling this year an upgrade to its Prius hybrid car, which runs on gasoline and battery power. “We had already some backlash on diesel before.

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe and there are some truly renewable ways of producing it, but it is most often produced by steam reformulating natural gas, a process that spits a fair amount of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. The biggest advancement for the newest generation of Honda’s fuel cell technology isn’t how it performs, but that the entire fuel cell stack fits in the same space that a V-6 engine —Honda’s 3.5-liter V-6, to be exact—would occupy. He recounted driving his mercedes/s-class”>S-class Mercedes-Benz soon after acquiring the fuel-cell Honda and waiting for its conventional driveline to change gear thinking it was quite clunky. Auto makers will have to be ready for the decline of diesel, especially in Europe, and other technologies will benefit from such a decline, he said. “Obviously gasoline, certainly, electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids, maybe fuel cell one day.” Volkswagen brand chief Herbert Diess said that while the auto maker still believes diesel has a great future, it is undergoing a shift. “Electrification is a trend in the industry. Of course, Salomon doesn’t pay for his hydrogen fuel in the States so has had six years free of fuel bills for his Honda, although he looks well-heeled enough for that not to have been too much of a consideration.

He reckons the Honda’s been pretty reliable, and says that even the polyester interior trim materials, about which we had our doubts, have stood the test of time. “Around the middle of the car, where the fuel cell is, there are all sorts of lumps and bumps, and they’ve put pads in those areas otherwise they could have worn, but otherwise the trim’s been fine,” he says. The California Fuel Cell Partnership claims 68 strategically placed stations would be enough to support 10,000 hydrogen cars in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, and for drives between the two.

At the moment, there are exactly two that are open to the public, with a third set to open this week (there are about 8,000 gas stations in the state). The Japanese auto makers’ efforts to lead the pack in hydrogen and electric cars carry risks, as the technologies are still outliers that could be left behind if global demand doesn’t increase. Consumers have been reluctant to buy purely battery powered cars because of limitations such as short driving range, while fuel-cell vehicles face a shortage of fueling stations. Honda’s main advance on Toyota’s technology is to have shrunk the fuel-cell stack – the ensemble of fuel-cell, motor and transmission – by a third from a 2008 model it leased to a few private buyers in California in a subsidized trial deal. Speaking of the Accord, also at the proving grounds was a test mule of Honda’s upcoming plug-in hybrid technology, which wore an enlarged Accord body and is based on a chassis related to the Clarity’s.

Because it’s 2015, it’s impossible to have a conversation about fuel cell vehicles without discussing the aforementioned Toyota Mirai, Toyota’s similar glimpse of a hydrogen future. In a carrot-and-stick policy, Beijing provides subsidies for private buyers of more than $25 000 (R340 750) on an all-electric battery car and more than half that on a heavily electrified, so-called plug-in hybrid. It has also toughened fuel economy rules in a bid to force carmakers to introduce more electric cars, and encourages global carmakers operating in China to share electric car technology with their local partners. The car, roughly the same size as the Accord sedan, will run at least 700 kilometers (435 miles) on a tank of hydrogen, based on Japanese testing standards, Honda said—longer than the 650-kilometer range of Toyota’s Mirai.

A Honda spokesman told us that the company is investing in infrastructure efforts, as well as “smart hydrogen stations,” so we’ll have to wait and see. At the centre of the new wave of China’s EV producers is Jia Yueting, the 42-year-old billionaire founder of LeTV, who has funded Atieva, Faraday and his own EV efforts. Initially, Honda’s main customers will be the government, and it will sell the vehicle on the mass market after getting feedback from first users, the company said. When the Clarity does come to market in the United States, well after its anticipated March 2016 debut in Japan, it will carry a base price of about $63,000, and will only be available for lease.

He has also ploughed hundreds of millions of dollars into Atieva and Faraday, while LeTV has partnerships with state-owned Beijing Auto and with British sports car maker Aston Martin, which could accelerate his efforts to put high-performance electric cars on the road in 2017-18. They make a lot of sense in fleet applications—which may be why Honda is offering the Clarity only to government agencies and “business customers” for the first year—and in big vehicles like city buses, which always refuel at the same place. NextEV is backed by three Chinese Internet entrepreneurs and Tencent, while Pateo started out as a digital marketing agency before developing smart, Internet-connected car technology. Making the case for such a strategy in the US is hard when gas is going for an average of $2.19 a gallon, but the math changes when you consider fuel prices inevitably will go up and the fact we’ve got to deal with climate change.

The ruling party wants to bring down the cost of a fuel-cell car to about $20 000 (R272 600) by 2025, and the government aims to create 100 hydrogen fuel stations by March in urban areas where the vehicles will initially be launched. “For the hydrogen car to take off, we need a fairly well developed infrastructure to make liquid hydrogen available everywhere. Both need to significantly expand the number of refuelling and recharging stations and, while EVs still need to convince long-distance drivers, hydrogen’s appeal to the masses may be blunted by its cost. Politics plays a role in this, too, because the California Air Resources Board requires automakers to offer a specific number of zero-emissions vehicles for sale each year.

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