Toyota’s Fuel Cell Truck still far away from commercial adoption despite early appreciation


Toyota Motor North America


Toyota Motor Corp’s, the global car and truck manufacturer, unveiled its highly secretive “Project Portal” on Wednesday. The project is a hydrogen fuel cell Class 8 heavy truck that was developed by a very small team of engineers in a secret facility in southeast Michigan and then the track tests were conducted outside Phoenix. The truck produces zero tailpipe emission as the energy needed to power the electric drive motor comes from an onboard energy fuel stack which utilizes the electrons contained in hydrogen cells to produce electricity.

This new innovative fuel redemption technology is for the first time applied to the heavy vehicle class but despite early optimism and approval from environmentalists, it still needs some way to go before its commercially viable in the trucking sector.

Toyota is one of the pioneers in this cutting edge technology and already has transit buses in Japan that utilize this amazing zero emissions fuel system. The company has also used this technology in the category of Sedans through its Mirai model, which is now available in some parts of Europe and Japan.

But, class 8 trucks is an altogether  different category because it will involve a high amount of investment on part of commercial transportation companies to make this new truck a part of their fleet and replace old ones and no company would move forward unless the commercial viability is not duly established.

Hard data is required in many facets to make the case for Project Portal, which includes the cost per mile and the infrastructure costs for installing hydrogen fuelling facilities. This fuel model might be zero emissions, but it doesn’t deploy renewable energy, a factor which might tilt the case in favor of the electric battery led models by other firms like Tesla.

If Toyota needs this class 8 truck to move beyond its present stage and carve out a market share for itself, it would now need to consolidate the truck’s economic advantages and how it could help commercial transportation companies in the long run.

Despite the fact that the Project Portal needs hard data to pique the interest of the goods movement sector in the long run, it’s zero emissions technology has definitely proven to be reliable and could help the sector, which is notorious for its high emissions, equalize the sheet and play its long overdue part in efforts towards climate control.

The question of reliability of this new technology would definitely of the biggest interest to commercial transporters because other environmentally friendly fuel options like electric power, have so far failed to meet the expectations of the industry. Toyota has all the motives to go forward with the hard data tests because immense commercial advantages can ensue for all stakeholders if the Project Portal turns out to beat other alternative fuel models towards adoption in the trucking sector.

Currently no one else has introduced a hydrogen fuel cell truck in the class 8 category except Toyota, which makes it comfortably poised to carry out the initial tests with time on its hand and it has already begun doing it. A freight hauling test operation is being conducted in limited capacity around the port of Los Angeles and Long beach area with a short haul class 8 heavy fuel cell truck.

While Nikola Motors, a Utah based firm, has announced a similar product to Project portal, its prototype will be unveiled in 2019, which provides ample time for the Toyota’s model to be tested in various ways and see if it retains the promise it was blended out for.