Toyota Chairman Says Fuel-Cell Cars Need More Time to Catch On

Toyota Motor Corp. Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada, known as the “father of the Prius” for his work on the world’s best-selling hybrid car, said fuel-cell vehicles will take longer than gasoline-electric autos to become popular because of the need to build infrastructure.

“The hybrid sold much faster than we had anticipated,” Uchiyamada, 70, told Bloomberg Television’s Francine Lacqua at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “As for the FCV cars, we assume it won’t be as fast as hybrid as the infrastructure needs to be prepared before it becomes major in the market.”

Fuel-cell vehicles are a cornerstone of Toyota’s plan to rid 90 percent of carbon dioxide emissions from its autos by 2050. To facilitate the infrastructure build-out, Toyota and four of its biggest car-making peers joined oil-and-gas giants including Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Total SA with plans to invest a combined 10 billion euros ($10.7 billion) in hydrogen-related products within five years.

Toyota has long contended it’s more likely to convince consumers to use gasoline-electric hybrids and fuel-cell vehicles rather than battery-electric autos, which tend to have less driving range and take longer to recharge than filling up with gasoline or hydrogen. With annual sales of 3,000 fuel-cell vehicles currently, the manufacturer plans to increase the figure 10-fold by 2020, Uchiyamada said.

Fuel-cell vehicles may face more headwinds with President-elect Donald Trump threatening to reverse Barack Obama’s policies on tackling climate change and pull the U.S. out of the 2015 Paris accord. Automakers are also pushing the Trump administration to allow them more latitude in meeting Obama’s miles-per-gallon target of 50.8 by 2025. The standard was 35.3 mpg last year.

“Whether to aim for the hydrogen-based society is dependent on each countries and region,” Uchiyamada said. “I don’t think there will be much change in other regions other than the U.S.”

To watch part of the interview with Bloomberg Television click here.

Toyota plans to invest $10 billion in the U.S. over the next five years, maintaining its pace of spending during the last half decade, as Japan’s largest automaker joined other manufacturers in unveiling spending plans in response to pressure from Trump to expand hiring in America.

Trump this month criticized Toyota’s plans made 20 months earlier that it would build a Mexico factory to assemble Corolla compacts beginning from 2019, saying in a tweet the company should build the plant in the U.S. or pay a “big border tax.” The Toyota City, Japan-based automaker already makes Corollas at a plant in Mississippi.

“We were a bit surprised that our name was mentioned by Mr. Trump,” said Uchiyamada. “We have full confidence in our market in the U.S. If it means more growth for us we are willing to spend more in the U.S.”

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