From Mazda’s car that promises to use hydrogen to run a rotary engine to a General Motors sport-utility powered by fuel cells, carmakers send car buyers a message: They have learned the lessons of the Prius.
According to a New York Times report, Toyota has clearly hit a car industry nerve with the Prius, its gasoline/electric sedan, but Toyota’s influence goes only so far. As one automaker after another makes clear with their concept cars, Toyota is not setting the standard for new technologies. It may be setting the pace, but mostly what it has shown is that high gasoline prices have made buyers more open to alternatives.
“There is not going to be a one-size-fits-all solution,” Richard Parry-Jones, Ford’s chief technical officer, told the Times when asked whether an industry standard would emerge for hybrids. “We are in for a fairly confusing decade.”
Toyota itself has the Fine-X, a fuel-cell concept vehicle powered by an electric battery and a low-pollution hydrogen cell.
Mazda has the Premacy, a minivan with a rotary engine fueled by hydrogen that is supposed to go on sale in the U.S. as early as 2008.
Executives from General Motors have the Sequel, a sport-utility vehicle that represents a technological leap over hybrids.
“We believe we can design and validate a competitive fuel-cell propulsion system by 2010,” said Lawrence D. Burns, GM’s vice president for research and development. He sniped at hybrids, citing their expensive price tag and limits to their efficiency. “Hybrids could be another niche, low-volume technology that is nice to have,” he said. “But is that going to make an impact if you are not penetrating the 64 million new cars and trucks?”
By the end of the decade, Toyota expects to be selling 1 million hybrids worldwide. By ramping up hybrid production, Toyota aims to cut costs for batteries, electric motors and other parts. In turn, Toyota and Honda say they hope to reduce the cost of a hybrid car to that of a standard, gasoline-powered car in this period.