You could say Doug Eroh has gone all in on Toyota’s zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell electric powertrain.
Longo Toyota, where he serves as president and general manager, was one of the first 10 Toyota dealerships in California to sell and support the original Mirai — Toyota’s entry into the fuel cell electric passenger car segment — starting in 2015. And for the past four years, Eroh has made the daily commute from his home to the store in El Monte in a Mirai.
“It’s a privilege to drive and sell this car,” says Eroh. “The amount of investment Toyota has put into this technology is just amazing. It demonstrates their commitment to clean air and the environment.”
Now, Eroh can take that one step further. That’s because Toyota Logistics Services (TLS) recently deployed four heavy duty fuel cell electric vehicles that make use of the same system that powers the Mirai to deliver new Toyota vehicles to Longo Toyota as well as other Toyota dealerships throughout Southern California.
It’s all part of Project Portal, a program launched by Toyota in 2016 to explore the feasibility of transitioning heavy-duty commercial trucks from diesel power to hydrogen fuel cell electric technology.
Step one was to build two prototype trucks to test the concept, named Alpha and Beta.
Step two, which began in 2018, involved a partnership with Kenworth and the Port of Los Angeles to place 10 of these fuel cell electric vehicles into the hands of actual customers — including TLS — who are currently putting them through their paces in real life day-to-day hauling.
This second-generation Mirai followed in the wake of the original model that was Toyota’s first hydrogen fuel cell powered passenger car when it debuted in 2015.
“Toyota was responsible for power generation and Kenworth was responsible for designing and building the Kenworth T680 fuel cell electric vehicles,” says Chris Bulpitt, a senior engineer at the company’s R&Ds Advanced Product Planning group in Gardena, California. “My team was focused on software development, making sure all of the various systems could talk with one another. And then there was a team that worked on hardware design, such as high voltage batteries. The requirements for a heavy-duty truck are very different than for a passenger car. For example, these trucks consume 40 times as much hydrogen as a Mirai — especially when you consider that they’re typically driven eight hours per day if not more. It was a big challenge.”
To generate the required power, each of these fuel cell electric vehicles employs two of the Mirai’s fuel cell systems running in parallel. Still, even when fully loaded at 80,000 pounds, they can generally cover more than 300 miles on a tank of hydrogen.
And when they need to refuel — most often at one of the three high-capacity stations put in place in the Los Angeles area by Royal Dutch Shell — it takes just about the same amount of time as topping off the tank of a conventional diesel-powered truck. That’s a huge advantage compared with the hours it can take to fully recharge the battery-electric heavy-duty trucks being developed and tested by other companies.
Meanwhile, TLS drivers rave about their experience behind the wheel of these fuel cell electric vehicles. Immediately noticeable is the instant torque and smooth delivery of power produced by their electric motors. And they also appreciate just how quiet they are, compared with the high decibel rumble of a 600-horsepower diesel powertrain.
Bulpitt says the performance of the Kenworth trucks are being continuously evaluated during their three months of service. Meanwhile, work on the next generation powertrains — which leverage the more powerful and efficient system at the heart of the 2022 Mirai — has already begun.
“I think it’s awesome that Toyota is doing this,” says Eroh. “You have zero-emission cars being delivered by zero-emission trucks. That really completes the cycle. And that means a lot to our customers, many of whom buy a Mirai because of their concern for the environment. I’m not sure there’s anyone else in the industry who is doing this.”
The Port of Los Angeles S2S Project is part of California Climate Investments, a statewide initiative that puts billions of Cap-and-Trade dollars to work reducing greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening the economy, and improving public health and the environment.
The California Air Resources Board is supporting the project with a matching grant of $41.1 million. Project partners are contributing the remaining $41.4 million in financial and in-kind support.