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Toyota Bringing Fine-T Fuel-Cell Hybrid Concept to New York Auto Show

Fine-T concept.

Toyota is bringing its Fine-T fuel cell hybrid in-wheel motor concept car to the New York Auto Show next week. The concept made its world premier at the 2005 Tokyo Motor Show as the Fine-X. (Earlier post.)

The Fine-T is powered by a new downsized, high-performance Toyota fuel-cell stack fueled by 70 MPa storage tanks. The fuel cell stack adopts a new alloy catalyst, which reduces the amount of precious metals used. The hybrid components are mounted beneath the vehicle floor, allowing greater cabin space—the interior space of an Avensis with the approximate exterior size of a Yaris—and creating a low center-of-gravity.

With the Fine-T, Toyota pursued using carbon-neutral materials over a wide range of interior fittings, processing polylactic acid (PLA), obtained from sugar cane, as well as Kenaf and other plant fiber into a variety of textures for door trim, suede-like ceiling material, seat nets and floor mats.

The concept uses an independent four-wheel large-angle steering system and independent four-wheel drive incorporating in-wheel motors with integrated drive power and wheel turning-angle control.

A drive-by-wire system connects the driver’s controls to actuators that operate vehicle functions. In front-axle/rear-axle turning mode, the vehicle can be turned around from the front or rear, which makes maneuverability easier when parallel parking. In directional change mode, continuously variable steering of the front and rear wheels allows a change of direction of almost the entire length of the vehicle in four directions. This feature allows for U-turns while coming out of parallel parking. The on-the-spot turning mode allows for convenient 360-degree turning on the vertical axis.


Thomas Covert

Hmm, sounds like the Oil-Endgame car proposed by Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute gang.

Interesting stuff.


I want one - RIGHT NOW!


I'm skeptical.

How long will those in-wheel electric motors operate reliably after being exposed to road grime, water, extreme temperatures, lack of shock absorbers, and basic torque of steering?

Do drive-by-wire control systems have a fatal flaw of being vulnerable to any disruption and cause accidents?

Will fuel cell subcompacts with a driving range of perhaps 100-200 miles fill the needs of most motorists?

Is hydrogen fuel cell the most expensive, least practical technology?

I'm skeptical and not impressed.


I don't see how this is a "hybrid"...
Fuel cell powered cars are already electric powered. So what it's an electric-electric hybrid? :)

I guess they are using batteries to capture regenerative braking rather than reverse elecrolysis thru the cell?

This seems like a missuse of the term "hybrid" to me.


I'm a big advocate of fuel cell and hybrid technology, but I'm not very impressed either.

I see this concept as being technology for technology's sake alone. The motor-in-wheel (also known as whispering wheel by some) doesn't take into account what to do if one gets a flat tire. Also, I'm sure the electric motors have a lot of torque, but their efficiency is still pretty limited by the lack of any sort of transmission or gearing.

PLUS the storage is through compressed gas, instead of something like a hydride or ammine.

PLUS the steer-by-wire doesn't have any sort of mechanical backup or failsafe.

I view this as a big regression in automotive technology. Please don't make this car Toyota.

tom deplume

In-wheel motors ought to hold up to adverse weather conditions as well as if not better than drum brakes.


people with concerns about drive-by-wire systems: who are you kidding? the prius has had drive-by-wire systems for steering, acceleration, and braking for the past...wait....3 years.
oh snap.
also you people must be in wonderland. are you telling me that in-wheel motors are something new and they haven't been designed with the road in mind? this car isn't a kid's toy. give me a break.

Mike GR

Hasn't drive-by-wire been used in airplanes for a while now? A lot more weight and power efficient..


"Also, I'm sure the electric motors have a lot of torque, but their efficiency is still pretty limited by the lack of any sort of transmission or gearing."


An electric motor has an efficiency of 90-95 %!



An electric motor has an efficiency of 90-95 %!"

Did not read what I wrote? Better yet, have you ever pondered why the only one-speed bikes on earth are for little kids? Or why one-speed electric cars can't go faster than 100 mph, despite having horsepower comparable to that of the average BMW?

Gears increase the mechanical advantage (physics term. look it up) and efficiency of a car. Period. The biggest reason they haven't been implemented yet in most fuel cell vehicles or other electric cars is to save space and weight.


Ash, the term hybrid in an automotive sense is not limited to only gas-electric hybrids. A hybrid vehicle is one that combines two different forms of propulsion together.

In this case, it's a fuel cell hybrid. Toyota has said that fuel cells will undoubtedly use hybrid systems in the future. Adding a hybrid system to a fuel cell vehicle increases it's mileage, increases performance, and thusly so makes the car more practical.



Gears do NOT increase effeciency. If anything they drop it by like .1%. Gears allow an ENGINE to operate in an area of its power band where it has greater volumetric effeciency. Go look that up. Maybe you should look at some power curves for typical electric motors. Also, if the motor can operate at >90% eff from 100 to 30,000 rpm, you shouldn't have any problem. Speed control? Go look up frequency modulation on AC motors.

HOWEVER, this sounds like Toyota's version of GM's skateboard version (You'll have to remember back to 2000). GM had problems with the size of the H2 tanks... just couldn't get a big enough one to fit below the frame. The other main concerns are the mass of the motor on the wheel... that translates to alot of unsprung weight, and handling at high speeds could be affected. Though the advantage is that the motors can be smaller because they are only driving 1/4 of the load. I still favor a motor mounted to a differential for RWD, and normal steering with 'fuel' storage under the hood. Cheapest to produce because it's similar to cars today.

As for fly-by-wire....all I have to say is hmmm... I know the car should never run out of power, and the control computer systems should never fail, and the programming should never have any evident bugs in it, but my real world experience makes me skeptical. (I have driven and stopped my car after the engine died doing 40 on a crowded street). The ultimate irony was that the guy who helped me push it out of the intersection said in awe "I wish I had one of these". Yea, chevy design with poor reliability is still better than Toyota design with good reliability...


You guys sound like all of the Ford and GM auto engineers.

Where's your creativity? Sense of imagination?


By-wire control systems are more reliable then mechanical linkages.

Main Generator shuts down? Well batteries are still present to provide power. Afraid of a wire breaking/failing? It is easy and still incredibly lightweight to have several redundant wiring systems (remember we are talking about wires for the controls not every damn wire in a car's electrical system which still only gets up to about 50lbs in its entirety).

Can an electric motor fail on power steering or brakes? Sure but you are more likely to have a hydraulic power steering failure (lines leaking/breaking, pump seizing, linkage binding). Etc, etc, etc.


Jeff-While I'm glad you agree with me about the potential problems with "fly-by-wire", you have to be out of your mind to suggest that an electric motor-powered car would not benefit from even a basic gearbox. I'll have you know that the motors in the Honda FCX and DC F-Cell both have single gear transmissions, rather than being directly attached to the wheels. If you look at any application where the motor has to operate through a wide range of speeds, whether it is automotive, toy cars, or even robotics, you'll see that it has some sort of gearing to improve total possible speed or torque at a given rpm.

In the end, as it relates to this article, all I'm saying it that Toyota's wheel-mounted engines don't seem like a wise idea, at least in their current iteration.


Drive-by-wire currently implemented only for throttle control. Braking and steering are still mechanical and hydraulic, but their power assist is switching to electrical from vacuum and hydraulic.
And do not worry about Toyota. They like to play with toys too.


The 1899 Lohner designed by a very young Ferdinand Porsche was a serial hybrid with electric motors integrated into the wheel hubs. It's a very attractive proposition, and I have seen prototypes/concepts for decades. Cost is what need to come down. Regarding gearing, it's not that an electric vehicle needs multiple gears to go over 100mph; the GTV trains in Europe hit close to 200mph. Its a trade off in design; hub motors can be designed to cover the full range of speeds a car needs without gears; most currently have them because typical electric motors are designed to run faster, therefor need to be geared down. But its not necessary; don't forget an electric motor develops maximum torque at stall speed(0 rpm).


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Toyo, you are correct, there are ethanol-electric hybrids, diesel-electric hybeids gasoline-hydraulic hybrids, etc...

But this still isn't a hybrid, it still only uses 1 power source: electric


Sorry, but it technically is a hybrid, even though both sources of tractive power are electric. One source is the fuel cell. The other is the battery. Just think of a conventional series hybrid in which you have an ICE genset delivering electricity to the motor, and a battery delivering electricty to the motor.

With the fuel cell hybrid, you're in essence swapping out the genset for a fuel cell. The drivetrain still requires the power management logic used in a hybrid to manage the overall drive system operation.

Rafael Seidl

The energy source defines the engine. A fuel cell runs on hydrogen. A regular battery stores electric charge. Those are two different energy stores, hence this is a hybrid. In fact, you pretty much have to hybridize fuel cell vehicles because their prime mover is phlegmatic (slow response to load steps, cp. early turbocharged ICEs) and because even hydrogen at 700 atmospheres has poor volumetric energy density (i.e. operating range is a problem).

The big problem with this concept, as with all hydrogen-based vehicles is producing and distributing industrial quantities of hydrogen at acceptable economic and ecological cost. Renewables are too expensive, while steam reforming methane and nuclear power result in large net increases in GHG and radioactive waste, respectively. Afaiac, this renders all of the successes already achieved moot points - hydrogen is a huge white elephant.


not to burst anyones bubble but keep in mind this is a CONCEPT basically Toyota puts everything they can into the car. every technological advantage they can think of. then IF they decide to actually mass produce the thing they will have to redesign the car and make it affordable, reliable (like all toyotas are) and practical. its at that point that any of the potential problems listed above will either be replaced or redesigned. Common this is toyota potentially the worlds largest automotive Manufacturer. I think you need to give their engineers a little more credit... they realize any potential problems with the system given "real world" conditions. wear and tear etc.
Have you got any better ideas on way to save the world from our oil additcion....

Roger Pham

The defining problem here is the cost of the fuel cell. Apparently, Toyota has found a way to make a new alloy catalyst which reduces the amount of precious metal used. Once fuel cell cost is brought down on par with ICE technology, then fuel cell vehicle promises wonderfully simple machine, electric-quiet and vibration-free operation, without exhaust emission. Current ICE technology is very complicated in comparison, with a lot of moving parts, all kinds of emission control mechanism, and relatively high maintenance.
In-wheel motors greatly reduce the complication, cost, maintenance, and efficiency loss of a mechanical transmission unit. For those who are in doubt of this arrangement, just look at a typical diesel-electric hybrid locomotive. This is a serial hybrid in which the output of a diesel engine is coupled to an electrical generator which is then transmitting power to the wheels of the locomotive which are fitted with electric motors. The electric component acts as a transmission unit without requiring gears or hydraulic parts, and has proven to be very reliable, or else the railroad companies would not have used it. This proves to be the most common type of locomotive used in the US, far out-numbers diesel-hydraulic hybrid.
For those who are concerned about the cost and availability of hydrogen from renewable sources, a recent high-temp steam electrolysis has shown capable of producing hydrogen at nearly 45% efficiency using solar concentrator energy. In this method, high-temp steam of 800 degree C is subjected to electric current using appropriate electrodes, and it turned out that at high heat, only 1/2 the amount of electricity will be required to generate hydrogen. Since heat energy can be obtained a lot cheaper per kwh than electrical energy, the cost of hydrogen thus generated is calculated to be around equivalent to current cost of gasoline at $2.50 a gallon. (~$2.48 per kg of hydrogen)
For those who worries about drive-by-wire technology and other electrical accessory power, just look at the success of the AirBus jetliners. Of course, Toyota will simply transfer current electrical technologies in their hybrids over to the fuel cell vehicles of the future.

Jack Rosebro

A few comments:

Ash - this vehicle is (as several have said) a hybrid, as it uses one form of propulsion (the fuel cell) to drive a second form of propulsion (an electric motor). Substitute a diesel engne for the fuel cell, and you've got a hybrid much like the diesel-electric locomotives that you see on our railways. The engineering definitions of what is and is not a hybrid are clear and were laid down decades ago.

Tom - The problem with in-wheel motors, aside from the increase in unsprung weight (which is quite a concern in itself) is that the additional weight requires the suspension assembly to be strengthened (which adds more weight) and designed around the motor. Normally, this means that the entire assembly needs to be supplied by one vendor.

Everyone I know who works with fuel cell vehicles agrees that in-wheel motors sure are a neat idea, can be sealed decently, and do look nice on concept vehicles - but their weight must come down dramatically if they are to be seriously considered for production vehicles. And that's not easy.

Jeff and AES - This is what I tell my students: don't like fly-by-wire? Then you won't want to be using any commercial aircraft. That technology has been migrating steadily to automobiles. Throttle-by-wire, and start-by-wire, for example, have been around the automotive world for some time now. Brake-by-wire has become increasingly popular in recent years.

Although the current Prius has more fly-by-wire functions than most other vehicles, much of that technology is over a decade old. There is a lot of redundancy built into fly-by-wire systems. We don't see a lot of problems with them in the service bay. The main reason why we haven't seen more of the technology on the road is that redundancy costs money.

Ask yourself how many vehicle accidents you personally know of which can be reasonably said to have been caused by a computer system failure. While you're tallying that up, ask yourself how many accidents you have seen that were caused by operator error.

Many of today's fly-by-wire systems are designed so as to refuse to carry out an idiotic request by the vehicle's operator, such as (for example) applying full throttle at the apex of a turn in which the vehicle is already nearing the limits of its adhesion. Toyota added just such a system to all of its SUVs after the Explorer/Firestone fiasco. Ford's solution, by contrast, was to lower the center of gravity of the next-generation Explorer by lightening - and therefore weakening - its roof.

I'll take fly-by-wire.


Ash, it's still a hybrid, because the vehicle is being propelled by two different power sources, one being the hybrid system, the other being the hydrogen cells. It makes no difference that both have an end result of electric power. That's like saying a gas-hybrid is not "really" a hybrid, because both the gas and hybrid propulsion end up as the same type of force, which is torque. That's just a ridiculous notion.

As for those saying this is a concept, yes it is true it's a concept vehicle, but those 70MPa tanks have already seen real world action.

Last year during the World Expo in Japan, Toyota had a fleet of fuel cell hybrid busses operating on the Expo grounds and transporting people. And yes, those busses were using Toyota's newly developed 70MPa tanks.

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