Lexus' First Electric Car Is Not For America Because Somehow Toyota Still Believes In Hydrogen Over Here

Illustration for article titled Lexus First Electric Car Is Not For America Because Somehow Toyota Still Believes In Hydrogen Over Here

Right before Thanksgiving, Lexus announced its (and, really, all of Toyota’s) first real mass-market battery electric vehicle, the Lexus UX 300e. It’s not really all that radical a vehicle. It’s essentially an electric version of the Lexus UX crossover, with a decent-enough range of almost 250 miles. Even though this seems like an ideal vehicle to compete with the swarm of modern EVs in America from Tesla and now Ford and soon Volkswagen, to name a few, Toyota is only planning to sell this in China, Japan, and Europe. I think that’s because they somehow are still really committed to hydrogen?

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Illustration for article titled Lexus First Electric Car Is Not For America Because Somehow Toyota Still Believes In Hydrogen Over Here

The Lexus UX 300e really isn’t all that exciting as far as EVs go—it’s an existing unibody vehicle with a lower frame and floor-mounted battery pack grafted on, but the end result seems decent, and, with its low-mounted batteries and drivetrain, is effectively following the rapidly-emerging standard design of modern EVs.

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Illustration for article titled Lexus First Electric Car Is Not For America Because Somehow Toyota Still Believes In Hydrogen Over Here

Toyota/Lexus has also beefed up the suspension to deal with the considerable battery weight, which they explain in this gloriously oblique way in their press release:

“The high-performance level of the GA-C platform is enhanced with additional braces and optimization of the shock absorbers’ damping force to match the dynamic changes of electrification.”

It’s all just fine, and I’m sure it would be a decently competitive EV option if sold here in America. I’m frankly pretty baffled why they’re not offering it here at all, and the only reason I can come up with has to do with this car:

Illustration for article titled Lexus First Electric Car Is Not For America Because Somehow Toyota Still Believes In Hydrogen Over Here
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Yes, the new, significantly de-uglified Mirai. It’s Toyota’s advanced, hydrogen fuel-cell-powered EV, and based on informal discussions I had with Toyota PR people and engineers at a recent event, they seem very, very committed to hydrogen.

Now, I get the appeal of hydrogen: you can refuel a hydrogen car in about the same amount of time as a gasoline car, sidestepping the sticky and painful issue of how long it takes to recharge an EV. There’s no battery degradation, and the only emissions a fuel cell vehicle produces is delicious, refreshing water. It seems great!

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The problem is, as always, stupid reality. Hydrogen may be the most abundant element out in the universe, but here on Earth it’s actually kind of a pain to produce and ship and store, and as a result there’s hardly any hydrogen infrastructure to speak of, despite decades of development of this technology by Honda and Toyota and Hyundai and others.

It hasn’t caught on. The conventional EV charging infrastructure, while still nowhere near as comprehensive as it needs to be, has been growing far, far better.

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Somehow, though, Toyota still is very committed to hydrogen, and I think that’s why they’ve taken so long to produce a mass-production battery EV, and why they’re now ignoring one of the biggest and most influential EV markets: America.

I think this is a really weird decision, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see these EV Lexuses over in the U.S. before too long as someone at Toyota wises up.

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus, 2020 Changli EV • Not-so-running: 1973 Reliant Scimitar, 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!)

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DISCUSSION

Hydrogen isn’t going to happen in the U.S. Hydrogen tanks in a moving vehicle are even scarier than a lithium ion battery, hydrogen leaks out of EVERYTHING because the molecules are so small, it’s much easier to deliver electricity to the end user rather than hydrogen, and you still have to go somewhere to fuel up your car. Why would I want a car that I have to go to the gas station for when I can charge one at my house while I sleep?

Also, fuel cells can degrade over time if the fuel has impurities in it, which for a mass produced chemical, isn’t unheard of from time to time. Over time even small amount of impurities can accumulate in the media of the fuel cell.

Most importantly though, if people think battery charging infrastructure is difficult to build up, then hydrogen is going to be a trip. Giant high-pressure tanks, hydrogen-tight fittings, a fueling system that any joe can use without blowing up the fueling station. Gasoline is easy. You just pour it in. Hydrogen requires a whole other level of equipment for safety. On the other hand, if someone can plug a phone in, they can plug a car in.