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Toyota ‘Bullish’ on Hydrogen Amid California Station Plans

Toyota Motor Corp. (7203)’s North American chief said California’s plan for more than 50 hydrogen fuel stations within two years is making executives feel “bullish” about the outlook for its Camry-sized fuel-cell car due in 2015.

Plans by the U.S. state to provide about $47 million for 28 new stations selling hydrogen for fuel-cell cars, along with 10 already in operation and 16 more in development, will be enough to support at least 10,000 vehicles in California, Toyota’s Jim Lentz said in an interview yesterday at a Fortune conference in Laguna Niguel, California. He declined to give a price or volume goal for the sedan Toyota is bringing to market.

“Just based on the product, based on the infrastructure we see that will be in place in California, we’re much more bullish on fuel cell,” Lentz said. “I’m more bullish on fuel cell than I was on EV. I think the cost of fuel cells is going to be substantially less than in an EV,” he said, referring to electric vehicles.

Toyota, which is also providing at least $7.2 million to a California startup to operate hydrogen stations, has said fuel-cell autos will be an easier zero-emissions option for many consumers than battery-only vehicles owing to range, performance and refueling time matching gasoline. Honda Motor Co. has said it will offer a revamped hydrogen sedan in the state in 2015, and Hyundai Motor Co. will lease a fuel-cell version of its Tucson sport-utility vehicle, the first of which arrived in the state yesterday.

Tesla Relationship

Toyota, the world’s largest seller of hybrid-electric autos, is concluding a project with electric-car maker Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA) this year in which it gets motors and battery packs for its RAV4 EV crossover. Currently, there are no plans for Toyota City, Japan-based Toyota and Tesla to work together on other battery-powered vehicles, Lentz said.

Automakers are under pressure in California, as well as across the U.S., Europe, Japan and South Korea, to offer vehicles that emit little or no carbon pollution and reduce petroleum use. While fuel-cell vehicles, like battery-electric cars, produce no tailpipe pollution, a lack of fueling infrastructure has been a hurdle to bringing them to market. Driving range and fast refills give hydrogen an advantage as many consumers don’t want vehicles that can’t go as far as gasoline autos or need hours to recharge, he said.

Consumers “are used to driving 300 to 350 miles. They are used to pulling into a station and refueling their vehicle in five or six minutes,” he said. “That has retarded the growth of buying pure battery vehicles, because there is the anxiety about range.”

Toyota’s U.S. sales unit in Torrance, California, is to relocate to Plano, Texas, within about two years. The company’s American depositary receipts rose 0.4 percent to $108.06 at the close in New York. They have declined 11 percent this year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alan Ohnsman in Los Angeles at aohnsman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jamie Butters at jbutters@bloomberg.net Niamh Ring

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