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CES 2014: 1 year to Toyota's eco-friendly Hydrogen car launch

Toyota has announced that it plans to start selling electric vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells by 2015.

The car maker showcased two demo fuel-cell vehicles (FCVs) on the first day of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, including a blue four-door sedan that looked like it could appear on a showroom floor immediately, and a "camouflage-taped engineering prototype," which Toyota said it has been using over the past year to conduct "extensive and extreme on-road testing in North America."

The test vehicle has a driving range of approximately 300 miles and does zero-to-60 in about 10 seconds, Toyota said. It is about as green as you can get, with emissions consisting entirely of water vapor. Best of all, for those sitting on the fence over getting an electric vehicles (EVs) that can take hours to charge up—the Toyota FCV prototype's hydrogen tanks can be refueled in "three to five minutes," according to the car maker.

"We aren't trying to re-invent the wheel, just everything necessary to make them turn," Bob Carter, senior vice president of automotive operations for Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), USA., said during his CES presentation. "Hydrogen works beautifully with oxygen to create water and electricity and nothing more. For years, the use of hydrogen gas to power an electric vehicle has been seen by many smart people as a foolish quest."

"Yes, there are significant challenges. The first is building the vehicle at a reasonable price for many people. The second is doing what we can to help kick-start the construction of convenient hydrogen refueling infrastructure," he continued. "We're doing a good job with both and we will launch in 2015."

The Toyota executive said the company would be announcing "specific sales volumes" closer to the launch date for its first FCV sedans, but recently "revised initial market plans and requested additional vehicles."

The proposed car hasn't been named yet.

Carter called Toyota's prototype fuel cell car "a major engineering achievement" born of the company's 20 years of investment in fuel cell research and development. Since building and testing its first FCV in North America in 2002, Toyota has achieved a "95 percent cost reduction in the powertrain and fuel tanks of the vehicle," he said.

Getting the costs of manufacturing an FCV down has been key to getting production models on the road and now Toyota is banking on doing just that by next year.

But just as electric vehicle maker Tesla has worked overtime to build out its fast-charging "Supercharger" stations in key regions, Toyota said it will need to construct a network of hydrogen fueling stations to make ownership of its upcoming FCV a viable option for consumers.

Tesla initially built up its Supercharger network in California and along the Eastern seaboard, with the Elon Musk-founded company now working on extending its recharging infrastructure reach throughout the United States. Tesla is also experimenting with battery swapping to speed up the recharging process even more.

Toyota will also first focus on California, Carter said, and is currently working with the University of California at Irvine's Advanced Power and Energy Program (APEP) to "help map out potential locations for new hydrogen fueling stations."

APEP's plans are based on the idea that FCV owners will want fueling stations within six minutes of their homes. The program has produced a model that calls for 68 total stations to be spread out in the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley, as well as in Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego counties, Toyota said.

Such a network would support 10,000 vehicles, according to APEP.

Toyota is banking on the state of California taking on a lot of the cost of building out all those stations. The state is committed to spending $200 million (£121.8 million) on 20 new hydrogen fueling stations by 2015, 40 by 2016, and up to 100 by 2024, Toyota noted.

"Stay tuned, because this infrastructure thing is going to happen," Carter said.