Toyota has announced that it will produce a hydrogen fuel-cell version of its Hilux pick-up as the brand explores other uses for the technology in the future.
The Japanese firm is currently the only car brand to sell a hydrogen fuel cell car to customers in the UK, with its second-generation Mirai. While many manufacturers are committing purely to battery-powered EVs, Toyota is instead looking to offer customers a range of powertrains, and it believes hydrogen will grow in prominence in future years.
One area where the brand is exploring is light commercial vehicles, including pick-ups, which often clock up big mileages and are used in places where charging is scarce. The brand has now announced its well-loved Hilux will be used as part of a prototype development project to explore the technology.
Toyota says it’s working with four ‘UK engineering partners’ to begin small-scale production of hydrogen fuel-cell Hilux models out of its Burnaston factory in Derbyshire – the firm’s long-running plant that currently makes the popular Corolla in hatchback and estate form.
Toyota says the model would be ‘ideal for use in isolated settings where electric vehicle charging is impractical’, with the firm receiving £11.3m in investment – £5.6m comes from government and the rest from industry.
Matt Harrison, president and chief executive of Toyota Motor Europe, said there was a “growing appetite” to expand hydrogen’s uses.
Harrison said: “It’s increasingly clear that hydrogen is going to play a key part in Europe’s future energy strategy and why there’s a growing appetite to accelerate it. To help speed up the expansion of hydrogen technology, we’re pursuing a strategy that is extending well beyond passenger cars and it’s based around three main pillars – lightweight vehicles, business-to-business and the creation of new ecosystems.
“We’re now also exploring expansion of hydrogen technology to other passenger vehicles where fuel cells can deliver a competitive advantage, including the Hilux. Development is progressing well and we’re moving ahead with preparing small scale production in our plant in Burnaston.”
Toyota said its fuel cell business unit is being “inundated with requests for collaboration,” and that it was looking to expand local production into another of its European production plants “as the demand increases”.
When asked if hydrogen fuel cell production could take place in the UK, Marvin Cook, former deputy managing director of Toyota Motor Manufacturing UK – and now vice president of its European manufacturing operations – would neither confirm nor deny this.
Cook said: “We have ambition to outgrow our technical centre [where fuel cell production currently takes place] and move it into one of our European manufacturing companies to be decided, but that is to develop a broader business.
“It’s assembling parts so it’s not limited to the UK, but it could take place here. There are a number of locations we’re looking at.”
With recent speculation about the future of the Burnaston factory, which from 2023 will produce almost 100 per cent hybrid models – a type of powertrain that is likely to be outlawed in the UK by 2030 – Cook stressed that there was “no issue with the future of the UK plants as we are today”.