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In green car race, Toyota adds muscle with fuel-cell launch

By Norihiko Shirouzu, Paul Lienert and Yoko Kubota

TOYOTA CITY, Japan/IRVINE, Calif., April 17 (Reuters) – In 1997, Toyota caught its competitors by surprise with the revolutionary Prius, the first commercially successful gasoline-electric hybrid car. Now, the Japanese firm is trying to do the same with a technology that seems straight out of science fiction.

Toyota Motor Corp will next year launch a hydrogen-powered car in the United States, Japan and Europe. For now, people at Toyota are calling it the 2015 FC car, for fuel-cell.

Fuel-cell cars use a “stack” of cells that electro-chemically combine hydrogen with oxygen to generate electricity that helps propel the car. Their only emission, bar heat, is water vapor, they can run five times longer than battery electric cars, and it takes just minutes to fill the tank with hydrogen – far quicker than even the most rapid charger can recharge a battery electric car.

The 2015 launch culminates a 20-year zig-zag quest during which Toyota first struggled to get the technology to work and then strained to lower manufacturing costs enough to permit realistic pricing. It has also been playing catch-up to rival Honda Motor Co, which has set the early pace with its FCX Clarity, a sleek, purpose-built hydrogen car.

The cost-cutting continues, though Toyota thinks it has cracked the code with incremental design improvements, such as using wider, flatter “fettuccine-style” copper in coils that make the motor more powerful, and thus smaller and cheaper.

“With the 2015 FC car we think we’ve achieved a degree of dominance over our rivals,” Satoshi Ogiso, a Toyota managing director, said in a recent interview at the group’s global headquarters. “With the car, we make a first giant step” toward making fuel-cell vehicles practical for everyday use.
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