Toyota along with other top carmakers and Japan’s government are teaming up on a big bet with fuel cell cars. Fuel cell technology is expensive and complex, but it would put a stop to pretty much all automotive pollution.

What’s so special about a fuel-cell vehicle? The vehicle would run on electricity from cells that combine hydrogen with oxygen. The plus side? Emissions are limited to water vapor and heat.

There’s other bonuses also. Fuel-cell cars can run five times longer than battery-operated electric cars and don’t have lengthy recharge times.

The biggest challenges remain price. Not only for the cars, but for the infrastructure needed to support them.

Toyota is leading the charge as it recently unveiled its first mass-market fuel-cell car today. The car will hit Japan’s shores first by March 2015 and will be priced at about 7 million yen. That equals $68,600 in the States. U.S. and European launches are expected next summer.

Japan’s government, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is also betting big on fuel-cell tech. Abe’s growth strategy calls for subsidies and tax breakers for buyers of these new fuel-cell cars and additional measures to support hydrogen energy.

Japan’s ruling party hopes to drive fuel-cell car prices down to about $20,000 over the next 10 years. Government officials are also making a push to install 100 hydrogen fuel stations across urban areas by March 2016.

“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 said at a news conference.

Japan is making a huge bet on fuel-cell technology. Two of the top three car manufacturers are on board along with the country’s government. The future of Japan’s auto industry and a sizable portion of its economy may depend on how successful fuel-cell technology is over the next quarter century.


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