Lagging infrastructure slows fuel cell growth, Lentz says

LAS VEGAS — Toyota remains committed to hydrogen cars, but a lack of infrastructure has slowed its plans, says Toyota North America CEO Jim Lentz.

Toyota will roll out its Mirai hydrogen fuel cell car in select Northeast markets later this year. The car went on sale at eight California dealerships last fall.

Lentz conceded in a speech here at the annual American International Automobile Dealers Association luncheon that “the infrastructure is coming along, albeit at a slower pace than we originally expected.”

Toyota expects there will be 48 hydrogen refueling stations throughout California by the end of the year.

To prepare for new Mirai sales outlets, Toyota has “announced plans to develop refueling infrastructure throughout the Northeast, starting with 12 stations in five states,” he said.

Those stations will be in Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island. A Toyota spokeswoman could not provide a specific month for the groundbreaking or the start of Northeast Mirai sales.

“Toyota’s investment in fuel cell technology is for the long term, so we’re playing a leading role in bringing together automakers, energy companies, government agencies and others to help build the required refueling infrastructure,” Lentz said.

“Those numbers might sound modest, but our research shows the issue of infrastructure is not so much about how many stations but rather location, location, location.”

Toyota and the University of California, Irvine, have developed a model mapping the distribution of fueling stations, he said.

One conclusion is that California would need just 68 hydrogen stations for regular refueling of about 10,000 fuel cell vehicles, Lentz said.

“Another way to look at it, if every vehicle in California ran on hydrogen, we could meet the refueling requirements with only 15 percent of the nearly 10,000 gasoline stations currently operating in the state.”

On another topic, Lentz said new safety systems would be on “almost” all Toyota and Lexus cars by 2017, “five years ahead of [the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s] target.”

The Toyota Safety Sense and Lexus Safety System + systems will help prevent or limit the damage from rear-end crashes, keep vehicles in their lane and improve “road safety at night,” Lentz said.

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