Fairbanks-To-Vancouver: Along the Alaska Highway

November 14, 2007

November 14, 2007 - Los Angeles, CA - Toyota Motor Sales (TMS) U.S.A, Inc., revealed a significant achievement in its ongoing hydrogen-hybrid fuel cell development program at a press conference today at the 2007 Los Angeles Auto Show. A recent 2,300 mile trek in a Toyota Fuel Cell Hybrid Vehicle (FCHV) from Fairbanks, Alaska to Vancouver, British Columbia along the Alaska-Canadian (ALCAN) highway confirmed substantial progress in reliability and durability, cold-weather operation and extended range capability of Toyota's hybrid fuel cell system.

"When our Torrance-based product planners and engineers heard about Toyota Motor Corporation's (TMC) plan to run a distance of 348 miles from Osaka, Japan to Tokyo on a single tank of hydrogen, they thought it was a great idea…that probably didn't go far enough in showing how far this new system had advanced," said Bob Carter, Toyota Division group vice president and general manager.

"Beyond the single-tank range capability, this new system was developed to deal with two major challenges to the refinement of fuel-cell power-trains. That is, starting and operating in cold temperatures and standing up to the vibration and harshness of rough road conditions…over a long distance…over a long time.

"Equally important, was to show how the development of Toyota's hydrogen fuel cell powertrains continue to move forward and mature at an impressive pace, far in advance of an infrastructure that will be necessary to support them."

To add a sense of risk and adventure, Toyota engineers planned to accomplish the feat with no practice runs and no pre-trip evaluations. Just get in the Highlander FCHV and drive. If they made it to Vancouver, great; if not, it would be chalked up to research and development.

Vehicle preparation consisted of adding tubular guards for the grille, rockers and rear-end, a roof rack and a few appropriate graphics to mark the occasion. Every mile of the journey was monitored in real-time by a dedicated laptop program that measured distance, time, speed, and hydrogen tank temperature and fuel-consumption. The entire trip was shot in high-definition video. And to verify and chronicle the achievement Road & Track Magazine engineering editor Dennis Simanaitis was invited to come along as referee and co-driver.

One of the key reasons why engineers chose the route from Fairbanks, Alaska to Vancouver is that Canada allows mobile re-fueling of high-pressure hydrogen vehicles along its public highways. Without a network of hydrogen fueling stations every 300 miles, mobile refueling was a necessity.

Two companies were enlisted to assist with mobile refueling. Linde, a German company based in the U.S. provided the rolling supply of hydrogen, while Canadian-based Powertech Labs supplied a self-contained re-fueling station. Mounted on two separate flat-bed trucks, the refueling team moved in advance of the Highlander FCHV, setting up shop at pre-determined intervals. A RAV4 camera vehicle stalked the FCHV from start to finish, while a pair of Toyota Tundra pickup trucks followed as support should anything major go wrong. Nothing did.

The first leg of the drive was the most suspenseful. The caravan needed to travel more than 316 miles from Fairbanks to Beaver Creek across the Canadian border in order to legally refuel. Not only did the vehicle make it, the onboard monitoring system confirmed that the vehicle could have covered nearly 400 miles.
On the second and third days the group covered the most remote sections of the Yukon Territory. With it, came the roughest patches of highway, the coldest weather, and the most numerous encounters with herds of elk, goat and caribou, often slowing the pace to a crawl.

Whether sharing the road with an unimpressed group of buffalo or sailing along a vast open stretch of Tundra at 90-miles an hour the Highlander FCHV performed without a glitch for seven days and 2,300 miles.

As with the first Prius more than 10 years ago, and each of the more than one million hybrids Toyota has sold since, Toyota's fuel cell program has been entirely an in-house initiative. All components, including the next-generation fuel stack, battery and hybrid-electric powertrain were developed by Toyota's Electric Powertrain division in Toyota City, Japan.

Doing so is expensive and time-consuming in the beginning. But it ensures a direct line to all phases of research and development. In the end, it produces a higher quality, more reliable, and more affordable product.

Toyota's comprehensive advanced vehicle development program continues to move forward with various promising technologies. Five days ago, Toyota delivered the first two Prius plug-in hybrid vehicles to the University of California Berkeley and the University of California, Irvine. The universities will conduct both technical and market research on these vehicles in real world conditions, thus playing a major role in the eventual market preparedness of this emerging technology.

Additionally, Toyota just began shipping the second-generation Highlander Hybrid mid-size SUV to dealerships, nationwide. The new Highlander Hybrid will join the Camry Hybrid and Prius to account for more than a quarter million hybrid sales for 2007 and more than 275,000 total hybrid sales for Calendar 2008.

"Fuel cells and plug-in hybrids, pure electrics and Lithium-ion batteries and much more, will all be part of a future that will require more that just building and selling cars and trucks," said Carter. "It will require a whole new way of doing business."

Over the next few months Toyota will have much more to say about the exciting new future of the auto business.

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