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Hydrogen, Autonomous Vehicles and a Whole Lot More

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During the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) Management Briefing Seminars (MBS) in Traverse City last week there were a number of presentations about electrified vehicles. In most cases, it seems, the presumption (if not an outright explanation) of how these vehicles would be powered was batteries. After all, there is even the acronym “BEV,” which stands for “battery electric vehicle.”

Yet also during MBS, there was a vehicle that had electric motors turning its wheels, and while it has a battery, that isn’t its main source of energy. Rather, this vehicle, Project Portal Beta, which rolled up South Village Drive almost silently, uses hydrogen fuel. Oh, and it happens to be a Class 8 truck, a Kenworth tractor that Toyota transformed by putting in a fuel cell system in place of the diesel engine and uninstalling the fuel tanks and installing hydrogen tanks.

Andrew Lund is chief engineer, Product Development Office, R&D, Toyota Motor North America, and the man who headed up the project. Lund, earlier in his career at Toyota, was the chief engineer for the Sienna minivan.

Which brings us to another topic of interest to many at MBS; autonomous vehicles. And given that Waymo has purchased 60,000 Chrysler Pacifica minivans for use as autonomous vehicles, it seems that minivans may get a new reputation, one that has nothing to do with soccer.


Yanfeng XIM18 Concept

Jeffrey Stout is executive director, Research, Technology & New Mobility, North America, Yanfeng Global Automotive Interior Systems. As the name of the company he works for indicates, Stout’s interest is primarily on the interiors of vehicles. As the title of the group that he is the executive director of indicates, he is interested in the intersection of things like interiors and autonomy.

Lund and Stout talk to Autoline’s John McElroy and me on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” that we shot during MBS. (Which explains why there are often people walking behind us.)

Lund not only talks about the Project Portal Beta but explains why he thinks that hydrogen is the fuel of choice for autonomous vehicles. (Briefly: if you’re going to be running an autonomous vehicle as part of a ride-hailing service, you are going to want that vehicle to be in service as much as possible. A hydrogen vehicle can be refueled in a matter of minutes. A BEV requires a few hours to get a full charge.)

Stout talks about how while autonomous vehicles are certainly things that seem to be something of the future, they are actually here, now, as the aforementioned Waymo Pacificas, some of which are presently running autonomously in the Phoenix area, prove. What’s more, Waymo has placed an order with Jaguar for 20,000 Jaguar I-Paces. Admittedly, the Pacificas are plug-in hybrids and the I-Paces are BEVs, but they have to start somewhere.

This is one of the livelier discussions we’ve had on the show, which you can see right here.


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