Toyota has unveiled its Fine-Comfort Ride concept at the ongoing Tokyo motor show. The premium sedan comes with the company’s next-generation hydrogen fuel cell technology that could make production between 2025 and 2030. While the brand’s executives are tight-lipped about the details, they did confirm that the next-generation fuel cell is more compact, lighter, more proficient and reasonable to produce than the one used on the only current Toyota production car that features the technology, the Mirai. Kiyotaka Ise, head of advanced R&D for Toyota, said he wanted to cut costs and enhance performance by about 50 percent with every new generation of the powertrain. On the Japanese test cycle, the car is said by Toyota to have a range of 1,000km between refills, from a 6kg capacity tank.
The compact powertrain has helped to maximize interior space with the wheels close to all-four corners, each having its own electric motor. The Fine-Comfort Ride concept is 110mm wider than the current-gen S-class. Inside, as the car’s name suggests, the focus is on comfort. The seats can be adjusted according to posture (including a fully reclined sleeping position), the several digital displays and projection screens are built around occupants and the seat layout can be altered to aid conversation or create personal spaces. Notably, the rearmost seats are in a sofa-like bench structure, while the front two rows are made up of individual seats.
Although Toyota chiefs have refused to confirm the Fine-Comfort Ride has been designed with autonomous driving functions in mind, the ability for front seat passengers to swing their seats round and talk to rear-seat occupants suggests this is likely. As with current hydrogen-powered vehicles, Toyota says the Fine-Comfort Ride can be refueled in around three minutes. However, the most striking thing about the car, from a visual perspective at least, is that its exterior lines and curved glass sections feel very much like the next generation of Toyota’s current design language, rather than those of a truly space-aged, never-to-be-realized concept.
Although every major mainstream car company has invested in and is studying the capabilities of fuel cells, Toyota has been selling hydrogen-powered cars for several years and demonstrating how this form of electrification not only most carefully copies the traditional gasoline-powered car-owner experience (long driving range, fast re-fuelling times), but could also be an innovative way of power delivery. People in remote regions could conceivably use their car’s fuel cell to power their homes.
And with this concept, the company is keen to show that a fuel cell car can be a truly premium automobile, thanks in part to the extra space made available by doing away with a big internal combustion engine up front and a transmission tunnel running through the center of the cabin.
Each of the car’s six different seats reclines and rotates so that occupants can turn to talk to each other — this is made possible by the fact that the car is rhombus-shaped. It is widest in the middle and tapers away at both ends. Or they can be folded away to create a completely open space for use as the driver sees fit. The windows double as infotainment screens with graphics and content projected onto them so that occupants aren’t reliant on tablet interfaces or other fixed sets of controls.
There is little doubt that in theory, hydrogen is a direct non-polluting replacement for gasoline. The only gas emitted from a fuel cell car is water vapor. However, capturing hydrogen is still an elusive process and the simplest way of separating it from other compounds for use in such applications is to burn hydrocarbons, which are fossil fuels. Until this problem can be solved then, with the allowance of Honda and Toyota, most car companies’ fuel cell cars will be of the conceptual variety.