In a move aimed at expanding fuel cell use in the world’s largest auto market, Toyota Motor has teamed up with major local carmaker Beijing Automotive Group, also known as BAIC, to provide related equipment for use in buses.
The Japanese automaker announced on Monday that it will supply fuel cell equipment and hydrogen tanks to BAIC subsidiary Beiqi Foton Motor.
Toyota has in sight the year 2022, when Beijing hosts the Winter Olympics, as a target date by which to put fuel cell buses into operation and hopefully boost the use of fuel cell technology in China.
BAIC has a major presence in China’s electric vehicles market, although its share of conventional passenger vehicles is low. Key local rivals include BYD.
Toyota introduced the world’s first mass-produced fuel cell vehicle, the Mirai, in 2014. While beating global rivals to the punch, it has failed to garner a major following, partly due to the lack of infrastructure such as hydrogen fueling stations.
It has sold roughly 8,300 fuel cell vehicles to date, underperforming initial estimates.
Toyota still considers fuel cells to be the core next-generation vehicle after hybrids and electric vehicles, but will target commercial vehicles such as buses and trucks.
The automaker’s new focus on fuel cell growth in China was triggered by Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to Japan in May 2018. The premier expressed strong interest in the clean technology when he visited a Toyota facility in Hokkaido.
Both the Chinese government and Chinese companies see fuel cell vehicles as viable options to tackle energy and environmental issues, and Toyota believes that it can grow the market by teaming up with BAIC, a major Chinese player.
Toyota recently announced it will allow free access to more than 23,000 patents related to its hybrid-vehicle technology to spread its use. It also extended use of its patents related to fuel cell vehicles to 2030 under a program started in 2015.
The automaker already has fuel cell technology tie-ups with German automaker BMW Group and other global players.