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Toyota Gets OK From California to Sell Hydrogen-Electric Semi-Truck Powertrains

Toyota's hydrogen powertrain kit is intended to make it easy for truck manufacturers to switch away from diesel power.

Toyota has been beating the drum for fuel cells for some time now. The company’s efforts have now seen its fuel cell drivetrain for heavy vehicles attain approval from CARB as an official Zero Emission Powertrain.

Hydrogen fuel cells haven’t quite caught on as a power source for cars. They’re a bit fussier than regular EVs, and there is very little refueling infrastructure, which has slowed consumer uptake. However, for trucking applications, hydrogen can make a lot more sense. The lack of infrastructure is easily overcome for truck fleets operated out of freight depots. Plus, quick refueling is a huge boon for commercial operators, particularly given that EV battery charging times don’t scale well for larger vehicles like trucks.

Toyota’s powertrain kit includes everything necessary to run a fuel-cell vehicle. It includes hydrogen storage tanks, batteries, electric motors, transmission, and the fuel cells themselves. The aim is to offer a completely functional setup that merely needs to be integrated into a truck. Thanks to the new Zero Emission Powertrain executive order from CARB, the kit is now approved for sale in the state of California.

Toyota hopes to soon offer the kit commercially as a viable alternative to diesel powertrains for heavy vehicles. Production is expected to begin in the company’s Kentucky plant later this year. Thanks to CARB’s stamp of approval, manufacturers using the powertrain may also be eligible for government incentives. These include the Clean Truck Fund, the Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive project, and potentially federal incentives, too.

It’s been a long road for Toyota to get to this point. It first began work on heavy vehicle fuel cell powertrains back in 2017 under the name Project Portal. The company’s prototype trucks began working at the Port of Los Angeles, first on shorter routes before eventually stretching their legs. The company later brought on truck manufacturer Kenworth as a partner in the work, which was in part financed by a sizeable grant from CARB itself.

For truck manufacturers scratching their heads about how to deal with impending new emissions regulations, this could be just the Hail Mary they’re looking for. Expect to see multiple truck manufacturers leverage Toyota’s deep fuel cell experience to build cleaner heavy goods vehicles going forward.

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