Toyota created and dominated the automotive hybrid market with the Prius, earning a corporate “green reputation” in the process. This year, Toyota (and Lexus) combined to pass a pair of milestones: two million in total hybrid sales in the United States and five million globally.
Even as other manufacturers are finding success with hybrids, they’ve still got a way to go to catch up with Toyota.
Now it turns out that Toyota is involved in raising the bar again by jumping to the forefront of fuel cell-powered vehicle development.
Toyota’s Jana Hartline, environmental communications manager, says the company will be displaying its fuel cell-powered sedan at the Consumer Electronics Show next month (Jan. 7-10) in Las Vegas.
“I’ve been driving a Highlander fuel-cell prototype and love it,” she says. “But the new car we’ll be displaying is a sedan.” It’s also so well along in development that it’s scheduled to come to market as a 2015 model.
Hartline says Toyota has overcome all the in-house technical hurdles, chief among them cost, cold-starting, and range.
One reason cost has come down is that Toyota’s new fuel-cell stack is smaller but more powerful than its predecessors and has been designed to be mated to an existing hybrid drivetrain that the company can take off the shelf.
“We’ve also solved cold-starting problems. This model has been started at -30 degrees centigrade. It also has a range of 300-plus miles,” says Hartline.
“All manufacturers are working on fuel cells and there’s a lot of industry-government collaboration on building a refueling infrastructure,” Hartline says.
Why hydrogen-powered fuel cells?
Here’s Toyota’s corporate outlook: “We believe hydrogen holds great potential as a clean, renewable, economically viable fuel. A fuel cell vehicle emits only water vapor; the exhaust contains no particulate matter, hydrocarbons, or other pollutants. Hydrogen can be manufactured using natural energy sources like solar, wind, and landfill and bio-gases, helping to break society’s reliance on oil.”
Clean Manufacturing, Too
It turns out Toyota has been thinking green corporately for a long time, including implementing five-year plans that actually work.
• Energy use per vehicle produced has been reduced 22 percent since 2002.
• Ten of Toyota’s 14 North American plants achieved ZERO waste going to landfills.
• Since 2002, Toyota’s use of returnable containers for parts and accessories has saved more than 308 million pounds of wood and 185 million pounds of cardboard, which is roughly equal to 2.5 million trees.
The idea of a manufacturing operation not sending truckloads of waste to a landfill is eye-opening.
“It starts with training everyone at a team member level,” says Kevin Butt, Toyota’s regional environmental director, “and includes programs like composting kitchen waste, having vendors use materials that can be used in waste-to-fuel projects, and being constantly aware about recycling.”
Butt’s job is to coordinate Toyota’s environmental initiatives across the company’s various North American operations: Sales and Marketing, Engineering and Manufacturing, Toyota of Canada, and Toyota Motor North America.
It’s now second nature for Toyota plants to follow the company-wide philosophy of “reduce, recycle, reuse.”
“We’re just touching the surface in improving our environmental impact,” says Butt. “So far, we’ve been picking the low-hanging fruit and seeing that more opportunities are showing up. A lot of these initiatives have economic benefit. They’re cost-effective, reduce impact on the environment, and create profit for the company and its suppliers.”
Butt says another benefit is that this approach makes a vehicle easier to recycle at the end of its life.
At present, 85 percent of the average new Toyota is recyclable. “Some of the plastics still aren’t readily recyclable,” he says, “and some smaller component parts can’t be separated yet.”
One thing Toyota is trying to remove from its vehicles is that new car smell that people associate with being one of the symbols of new-car ownership.
It turns out that the almost-revered smell is the result of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) being emitted from materials used in the vehicle interior, including plastics, leather, textiles, glues, sealants, and additives.
VOCs react with sunlight to create smog and the haze that forms on the inside of windshields.
Water, especially pure water, is a major resource used in production. It used to be that company filtration systems would reject 25 percent of incoming water as unsuitable. Now that rejected water is sent through a reverse osmosis cleansing procedure that returns 60 percent of it to the manufacturing process, saving 61 million gallons per year.Continued...