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Nihar Patel: Why the Auto Show Will Be a Tech Show by 2020

Nihar Patel Toyota Motor Sales
February 11, 2015

We are on our way to a hydrogen-powered society.


Innovation and technology advances transform the way we live, work and interact with the world around us. Those advances were on full display at the recent DC Auto Show. Technology that keeps us safer and connected. Advances that — in the case of energy — harness the limitless potential of hydrogen to power our homes as well as our cars. They are all part of the way the auto industry is leading innovation.

At Toyota, we know that to create real advances, we have to work together as an industry. One car company alone cannot spark an energy revolution. That’s why this month, Toyota released nearly 5,700 hydrogen fuel cell related patents associated with the production of the Mirai, our zero emissions, mid-sized hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle.

The Mirai, which made its East Coast debut, runs on hydrogen fuel, emitting only water vapor. It can travel up to 300 miles on a single tank of fuel. The Mirai can also serve as a generator, with enough energy to power home essentials and consumer electronics in the average house for a week.

Running on Hydrogen

Why hydrogen? The simple answer lies in an elegant process that bonds oxygen and hydrogen…to create water and power…and nothing more. Hydrogen is the lightest and the most abundant element in the universe.

Hydrogen, and hydrogen fuel cell technology, will be a societal and economic game-changer. Gasoline has been the primary fuel for the first 100 years of the automobile. We believe that hydrogen will be the same for the next hundred years. In fact, we believe we are on our way to becoming a hydrogen-based society — well beyond the transportation sector.

Importantly, hydrogen fuel cell technology is scalable. We are using small fuel cells in our Toyota forklifts and large ones in our Toyota buses. They are already being used broadly as stationary generators and, most recently in aviation, in place of batteries.
We hope that by sharing our patents with others, new fuel cell components and systems can be refined and improved to increase performance, reduce costs and attract a broader market of buyers.

Closing the Infrastructure Gap

Yet for the Mirai to truly benefit consumers, the infrastructure must be in place.The new Congress should reinstate the tax incentives for hydrogen companies that build refueling stations and for consumers who would like to purchase fuel cell vehicles.

With the expiration of the federal fuel cell credit last year, purchasers of zero emission plug-in electric vehicles receive a $7,500 tax credit, while buyers of zero emission fuel cell electric vehicles receive no credit whatsoever.

Consumers and the investment community need a clear signal that government is not choosing winners or losers in the zero emission vehicle race. These vehicles should be treated equally to allow the market to decide.

To help jump-start the infrastructure, we’ve partnered with several firms, including Air Liquide, to develop a phased network of 12 hydrogen stations across the Northeast region. As we work to bring this technology to consumers, we’ll continue to make these types of partnerships.

Tech Show on Wheels

It’s not far-fetched to believe auto shows one day will resemble tech shows, with automakers partnering more and more with technology and energy companies to create new products to meet customer demands. And as the auto and tech industries continue to collaborate, it shouldn’t be a surprise that auto shows in the next decade will include Google and Apple.

In fact, even now, the auto industry leads the tech industry in research and development. Toyota alone spends $1 million per hour on R&D worldwide. In addition to new ways to create energy, the industry is embarking on joint efforts to create autonomous driving systems such as vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technologies that will connect cars to each other and reduce traffic fatalities.

This means vehicles will be able to offer sophisticated information services, including accurate real-time traffic information and route optimization assistance to help people get to their destinations more efficiently. This type of information will offer day-to-day convenience to drivers and passengers, but can also play a critical role in post-disaster situations when information on safe evacuation routes may be necessary.

It’s because of these innovations and changes that today’s auto show isn’t just about cars anymore. Instead, it’s a chance to see the leading ideas and innovations in energy, technology and infrastructure.

(Top GIF: Video courtesy of Toyota)


Nihar Patel is Vice President of North American Business Strategy at Toyota Motor Sales.

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