Isuzu, Honda to test hydrogen-powered trucks on public roads

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Isuzu Motors Ltd. and Honda Motor Co. plan to test a hydrogen fuel-cell truck on public roads in autumn this year, checking its performance on expressways and other roads.

The companies have jointly developed a large fuel cell vehicle (FCV) that can run for about 600 kilometers on a single tank of hydrogen.

FCVs have been dubbed the ultimate eco-vehicle because they do not emit carbon dioxide. The motors in FCVs are powered by electricity generated from a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen, and only water is discharged.

The performance and safety of a 25-ton FCV will be tested over long distances in the Tokyo metropolitan area. The companies, which are aiming to launch the product in 2030 at the earliest, will begin mass production when lower manufacturing costs are achieved and a network of hydrogen refueling stations is established, among other factors.

The two companies have been conducting joint research on large FCV trucks since January 2020.

Honda wants to sell FCV systems to other automakers including Isuzu. A senior executive of Isuzu told The Yomiuri Shimbun that utilizing FCV systems manufactured by Honda would be “a strong option.”

Efforts to cut carbon dioxide emissions from trucks have become a major challenge amid a drive toward decarbonization.

Around the world, emissions regulations are being tightened.

The European Union has called for a 30% reduction in truck emissions by 2030 compared to 2019 levels. In the United States, California has announced it will ban the sale of new gasoline-powered passenger cars and trucks by 2035.

In Japan, the government has compiled a “green growth strategy,” in which it has set a goal of buying 5,000 large electrified trucks by the end of the decade.

By 2030, the government aims to set a 2040 goal for the widespread rollout of electrified vehicles as part of efforts to realize net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The development of zero-emission trucks has mainly focused on electric vehicles, or EVs, but their short driving range has proved to be a stumbling block.

Large trucks would require a large number of batteries. According to one estimate, to run 300 kilometers, a large EV truck would need 2.5 tons of batteries, which would limit the volume of cargo it would be able to transport.

Automakers anticipate the use of EV technology in small trucks that are used to deliver parcels over short distances, while FCVs, which can run for longer distances on a single tank and take about three minutes to refill, are considered to be a viable replacement for gasoline-powered trucks because they can carry the same volume of cargo.

Hino Motors Ltd. is also developing an FCV with Toyota Motor Corp., while Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corp. is aiming to sell only FCVs and EVs in Japan, the United States and Europe by 2039 in collaboration with its parent Daimler AG.

The lack of hydrogen refilling stations is a challenge yet to be resolved. High installation costs have kept the number of stations low, with only about 160 currently operating in Japan.

As freight trucks often travel along similar routes, locations such as expressway service areas are being eyed as possible refueling points in the future.

“If large FCVs are used to transport freight, production costs will come down,” said automotive industry expert Shinya Omori, president of SC-ABeam Automotive Consulting. “The number of hydrogen stations will also increase, which could lead to an increase in demand for FCV passenger cars.”