Toyota’s Hydrogen Delusion Threatens Its Existence

We’re in an interesting spot in the EV revolution. On one hand, electric vehicles have gained enough momentum that it now seems more or less inevitable that they will grow to consume the entire passenger vehicle market in time. On the other hand, how and when that will happen remains a subject of fierce debate. Across the legacy auto industry, there is a surprising amount of denial regarding the magnitude and speed of this transition. Exhibit A is Toyota.

The Japanese auto giant has stubbornly resisted the EV transition for years, an ironic position given their early lead in hybrids. Although they’ve recently been dragged kicking and screaming towards unveiling their first battery electric vehicles, evidence that Toyota doesn’t really want a battery-electric future continues to pile up.

This story in Automotive News titled “Toyota unveils hydrogen-burning engine plan to fight EV mania” sums up the current state of affairs so nicely. At a time when so many manufacturers are jumping headfirst onto the EV bandwagon, it’s rare to see a major manufacturer still resisting EVs so strongly. Toyota’s comments are so incredible, we have to take a look at them together here today. Buckle up kids.

OYAMA, Japan — It is a familiar racetrack scene. But this time, Toyota has a new twist.

The automaker’s petrol- head president, Akio Toyoda, is barreling down the straight at Fuji Speedway in a souped-up Toyota racer, clocking 140 mph with thunderous engine growls and bone-rattling vibrations before slamming on the brakes to tuck into the corner. 

His tire-smoking No. 32 race-spec Corolla looks, sounds and drives like any other car in the field. But there is one important, invisible difference. While the rival racers are all burning gasoline, Toyoda’s engine is powered by hydrogen — and it is churning out virtually no carbon dioxide.

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If you see any investment in hydrogen by major automotive players, they blew it. If products are being developed with “thunderous engine growls” and “bone-rattling vibrations”, investors should run for the hills. This is not what the future will look or sound like.

Note the distinction: It’s not a silent hydrogen “fuel cell” under the hood, but a freshly minted “hydrogen-burning” three- banger. 

The engine is still just a prototype, but Toyoda believes it holds big promise for his company, for the industry and for carbon neutrality in a world seemingly gone gaga over full-electric vehicles.

His message here was as loud as the engine’s redline wail: Policymakers should butt out of dictating battery-electric vehicles, because myriad other technologies — including combustion — can be green and clean.

“The ultimate goal is carbon neutrality,” Toyoda said after completing the Fuji Super Tec 24-hour endurance race, where he rotated behind the wheel with five other drivers. “It shouldn’t be about rejecting hybrids and gasoline cars and only selling fuel cells and battery-electric cars. We want to expand the choices available in the path to carbon neutrality. This is the first step.”

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The hydrogen cars on the market today, like the Toyota Mirai, are hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. They’re essentially the same as battery electric vehicles on the inside: they’ve got an electric motor and batteries, but it’s a smaller battery supplemented by fuel cells. A hydrogen fuel cell can take hydrogen stored in a tank and use it to generate electricity to recharge the battery. It’s far less efficient and there are very few hydrogen stations, but proponents argue it enables faster refueling and longer range than battery electric vehicles.

The problem is those hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are so slow and shitty you’d be laughed at for taking one anywhere near a race track. That’s why Toyota is showing off this new prototype. If a fuel cell vehicle is an EV that can run on hydrogen, this new hydrogen combustion engine is like an ICE that takes hydrogen instead of gas. What a dumb idea!

The world has “gone gaga” over battery electric vehicles for a reason. They work, they can replace polluting cars today for the vast majority of people, and they’re selling like hotcakes. Toyota’s attempts to highlight their failing hydrogen technology in the face of this inevitable transition reeks of desperation and fear.

To skeptics, Toyoda’s May 22-23 run in the foothills of Mount Fuji may seem like a desperate last stand for a technology on deathwatch. Or a fig leaf for Toyota’s slow, seemingly reluctant shift into battery-electrics, as competitors at home and abroad invest billions into EV-only futures. 

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Yes, well put! Anyone with a brain who understands the technology and economics involved can see that this is a desperate last stand for a dying technology. It is Exhibit A that Toyota is being dragged into BEV kicking and screaming. What other way could Toyota try to spin this?

But seen another way, Toyota Motor Corp. is opening a new front in the war on greenhouse gas emissions. Toyota believes technological breakthroughs, such as this one, can give internal combustion a new lease on life — saving jobs as well as the environment. It is a debate over the best road to net-zero carbon, with a pushback against government mandates that reflexively phase out internal combustion in favor of EVs.

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A new front in the war on emissions? Please. This is a new front in Toyota’s years-long propaganda campaign against electric vehicles. If they actually gave a flying fuck about reducing emissions they would get serious about EVs. Instead, they continue to fight desperately to cast doubt and delay the transition.

Toyota claims this is about “saving jobs, as well as the environment”. The truth is that they’re fighting EVs to save their jobs instead of the environment. Instead of pushing back on government mandates, how about pushing the Toyota team to address the glaring reality: one of the world’s largest automaker is hopelessly behind on EVs.

“Toyota isn’t doing this because it’s behind in EVs,” said Takaki Nakanishi, head auto analyst at the Nakanishi Research Institute. “Toyota’s doing this to save Japan’s auto industry and its domestic supply chain. This is a performance by Toyoda to influence policy in a better direction.

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Right. Toyota can feel which way the wind is blowing, and they’re scared shitless. They rolled out this unfinished prototype for a laughable publicity stunt because if they fail to influence policy in a “better direction” (for Toyota), they may not exist in the future at all.

Imagine, Toyota going bankrupt. The symbol of stability and reliability in the auto industry, wiped clear off the face of the Earth. In positioning themselves firmly against the EV revolution, this is what’s at stake for Toyota. It’s become a matter of life and death.

Development of the new Toyota engine began in secret in 2016, and it was first shown to Toyoda in December. It is still a long way from mass production; the automaker has no concrete timeline

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Which is why it’s very important that everyone see it now! Why buy an electric vehicle that can eliminate pollution today when there’s a great new hydrogen engine with “no concrete timeline” for mass production we can wait for instead?

One rationale behind debuting the engine in the Corolla H2 concept at Fuji was showmanship — Toyoda is so confident in the new direction that the 65-year-old president decided to unveil the engine by driving it himself in a 24-hour, all-night race, declaring its viability in a high-speed endurance setting.

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Wow, a 24 hour all-night race! That must have really proven the superiority of hydrogen over battery electric vehicles, right?

Simply completing the grueling race was deemed a victory, even though the car spent 12 of the 24 hours in the pits, including four hours refueling. It finished 49th in the 51-car mixed-class field, though it entered in a special class for developmental cars and winning wasn’t the objective. 

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Wow, incredible! The car was in the pit for just 12 hours! I can only imagine the thrill of watching this race in person! Come on kids, jump in our explosive hydrogen car! Let’s go drive for 24 hours straight, we only have to spend 4 hours charging!

Japanese journalists billed it as a “historic” run and cheered Toyoda and his team with rousing applause at a post-race press conference in pit row. 

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Hooray!!! Toyota is on the path to bankruptcy and in denial about the EV transition!!! Wooooooooooo yeah, history in the making!

But commercialization of hydrogen engines faces many of the same roadblocks as hydrogen fuel cells. Pressurized hydrogen gas is expensive and the refueling infrastructure scant. And its carbon-fiber on-board fuel tanks are heavy and costly.

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I’m sure people will build hydrogen stations around the world in no time, and the supply chain for manufacturing and distributing the gas should spontaneously emerge shortly after. At the equivalent of $16 a gallon of gas its true that hydrogen is expensive, but people should honestly just suck it up so we only have to wait 4 hours to refuel when we take non-stop 24 hour road trips.

But Toyota is playing the long game, eyeing the Japanese government’s goal of nationwide carbon neutrality in 2050. 

We still have 30 years,” Toyoda said. “Thirty years ago, we didn’t even have hybrids or fuel cell vehicles. … It’s not a good idea to narrow down our options now.”

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Sorry Toyota, but the way things are going you may not have 30 years left. You have ten years tops to make sure every single vehicle you sell generates zero emissions. If you haven’t accepted BEVs are the future within 3 – 5 years and allocated your capital appropriately, the best CEO in the world won’t be able to save the company from sinking like the Titanic.

Toyoda has reasons, both pragmatic and patriotic, for championing internal combustion. 

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Resisting the EV transition is neither pragmatic nor patriotic. It puts the future of the Japanese auto industry at risk, and it is expedient and self-serving more than “pragmatic”. These are nothing more than lame excuses to delay doing the right thing. So why is Toyota fighting so hard against EVs?

As the head of Toyota, he can fully leverage the company’s massive $10 billion R&D war chest to spread bets across a range of tomorrow’s tech. Toyoda also wants a longer life span for the hybrid systems into which his company has sunk billions of dollars.

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You’re kidding, right? The time to “spread bets” is over. These are classic delay tactics we’ve seen from legacy auto and big oil for years. We have a solution that’s not only viable, but a commercial hit: battery electric vehicles. “Spreading your bets” in 2021 is the competitive equivalent of spreading your cheeks and waiting for the invisible dick of the market to rail your organization into oblivion.

Toyota must build off their hybrid investments by transitioning to pure battery electric vehicles now. Don’t worry about those having sunk billions into hybrids that often release more emissions than ICE cars. Worry about looking back at this moment in 10 years and realizing you sunk the whole company.

Meanwhile, as head of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association — a post he has held since 2018 — Toyoda wants a smooth transition into the electrification age for Japan’s automakers and suppliers that are still wrapped up in internal combustion

Toyoda notes that some 10,000 components go into an engine system — roughly a third of all of a vehicle’s parts. EVs not only have fewer parts, they require fewer work hours to build. The concern is that a wholesale shift to EVs could wipe out swaths of suppliers and their jobs. That, in turn, could undermine the country’s entire supply chain.

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The longer you delay the transition to electric vehicles, the less smooth it’s going to be. Stop worrying about Japan’s legacy auto industry and suppliers for a moment and focus on making an electric vehicle that’s a hit with consumers.

Look at China. They want to become the largest auto exporter in the world, and they’re not worried about protecting internal combustion suppliers. If that doesn’t scare you, then look at the startups: Everyone from Tesla to Nio to Rivian. They have no existing supplier base to protect and are jumping deep into this transition head first.

There is a mass extinction event coming for the auto industry. Whether your company survives into the next decade will be decided by its priorities today. If you’re more worried about protecting internal combustion engine jobs than making the jump to pure electric, you might not be able to do either.

Toyoda says knee-jerk reactions are shortsighted. 

What Japan should do first is add technological options. I think regulations and legislation come next,” he said at a recent event, wearing his manufacturers association chairman hat. 

Engineers and workers involved in engine manufacturing would lose their jobs. … We need to be practical and sustainable.”

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Practical and sustainable means going all in on the best zero emissions solutions we have today. Not “looking for more options”.

Forget engine manufacturing. If you miss the boat on electric vehicles, everyone at Toyota will lose their job. Everyone. The scraps of Toyota will end up sold to some Chinese startup. Is that what you want? Is that what’s best for Japan?

At risk are jobs tied to everything from piston rings, ignition coils and spark plugs to gearboxes and turbochargers. 

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Oh, the horror! A world without piston rings, ignition coils and spark plugs. Sure there would be no pollution in our cities, but just think of the poor spark plugs and all the people who wake up every day excited to make them.

This month, Daimler CEO Ola Källenius joined the chorus of concern about the switch to EVs, telling Reuters, “We have to have an honest conversation about jobs.”

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Translation: We either have to fuck over workers or fuck over ourselves, and we’d prefer to do the former.

Honda, Jaguar, General Motors, Ford, Mini and Volvo are among those making their portfolios heavily, if not entirely, EV-oriented. Honda plans to completely drop combustion engines from all new-vehicle sales by 2040. 

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“Honda, Jaguar, General Motors, Ford, Mini and Volvo are among those trying not to go bankrupt”

Toyota, by contrast, is taking a diversified approach. The automaker wants to sell 8 million electrified vehicles by 2030, but only 2 million will be full electrics or fuel cells. Among other future technologies, Toyoda also is pitching electrofuels as a way to deliver cleaner internal combustion.

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By 2030, the amount of polluting cars sold worldwide will be marginal compared to the number of zero emissions vehicles. For Toyota to shoot for 2 million EVs and hydrogen fuel cells vehicles while Tesla shoots for 20 million pure electric vehicles is incredible. It’s akin to surrendering the war for the future of the auto industry before the first battle has even been fought.

Hydrogen-combustion engines could ease the transition by piggybacking on existing technology. For the race, Toyota engineers modified the 1.6-liter, three-cylinder turbocharged engine used in the GR Yaris. They added a high-pressure injection system from Denso Corp., adjusted the spark plugs, strapped on four hydrogen tanks and connected it all with feeder lines.

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Any automaker focused on saving their existing technology will soon be focused on saving themselves. Forget it. It’s over. It’s time to move on.

Improving performance will hinge on better heat management and injection technologies. Fuel economy may also be an issue. Toyota’s thirsty race car had to pit 35 times, mostly for fuel. Still, Toyota’s effort may already be attracting converts. 

Automotive News

Stop wasting money on this bullshit now if you want to survive. The technology hasn’t even finished development, the infrastructure isn’t there… by the time you’re able to ship this product the EV transition will be over.

An auto industry without Toyota seems unimaginable. But unless the company starts changing its tune fast, that’s the future we’re headed towards at Tesla speed.

Read the full story at Automotive News

3 thoughts on “Toyota’s Hydrogen Delusion Threatens Its Existence

  1. Not to forget the fact that there is no “green” hydrogen out there right now. It’s all made from fossil gas. Plus whatever hydrogen we will make by electrolysis in the future is required for steel making and synthesizing e-fuels for long-range ships and airplanes.

  2. Much of what’s written about Toyota is true but if you ask me, they will already be heavily invested and secretly working on EV research. At the point they feel there’s a compelling product for them, they will come out and start producing full steam. My personal opinion is that it is a waste of time analysing Toyota’s current situation because they have a very strong foothold in the developing world with hybrids, and that will keep the machine running for Toyota for a good few years. This comes from a current Model 3 owner who had Toyota HSD before that.

  3. How much do the liars, cheats and thieves at Tesla pay you? You’re an idiot and completely ignorant about what is happening with hydrogen in places like China and Australia. Fool.

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