Japanese fuel-cell cars on track for March 2015 release

Japan and automaker Toyota are looking to kick-start the fuel-cell vehicle industry with plans to produce hydrogen-powered cars that experts believe can lessen greenhouse gas emissions. 

Jae C. Hong/AP/File
The 2015 Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell hydrogen-powered electric vehicle is introduced at the Los Angeles Auto Show on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, in Los Angeles.

For Japan, the future of the auto industry is near and it can be glimpsed through a hydrogen lens. 

On Wednesday, Japanese automaker Toyota announced plans for a fuel-cell car to be sold in Japan, the US, and Europe.

The car is scheduled to go on sale in Japan in March 2015, priced at around $68,600 followed by a US and European release in the summer. 

This announcement follows the previous day's televised address of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's planned growth strategy for Japan's economy. This plan includes "subsidies and tax breaks for buyers of fuel-cell vehicles, relaxed curbs on hydrogen fuel stations and other steps under a road map to promote hydrogen energy," according to Reuters. Subsidies for the hydrogen car industry are reportedly in the neighborhood of $70 million

"This is the start of a long challenge to make hydrogen a standard feature in society and to make the fuel-cell vehicle an ordinary automobile," Toyota Executive Vice-President Mitsuhisa Kato told a news conference, according to Reuters. 

Fuel cells rely on hydrogen for power. Although expensive, experts say this technology stands to significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions and reduce dependence on foreign oil as fuel-cell vehicles do not emit greenhouse gasses from their tailpipes and can be powered by resources such as water, according to the US Department of Energy. However, greenhouse gasses can be generated through the production of hydrogen used to power fuel cells, according to the DOE. 

Toyota, the world's top-selling automaker, is no stranger to advancing new developments in the car industry. Seventeen years ago Toyota released the Prius, the first hybrid vehicle available to a mass market, and topping the charts in car sales. By last year, the Prius had been the best-selling car in California two years running, according to Bloomberg

Similarly, Toyota has made important strides in advocating the development of fuel-cell cars as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to The Wall Street Journal. But while hydrogen-powered vehicles can recharge in mere minutes, unlike battery-powered cars which often take a long time to recharge, hydrogen stations are difficult to come by, only available "in places like Japan and California," notes The Journal. 

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