TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Toyota has cut the cost of its current fuel-cell prototype to ¥10 million, ($129,456), a company engineer tells Ward’s at the Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing Seminars here.

“It’s pretty impressive,” says Justin Ward, advanced powertrain program manager-advanced technology vehicles for Toyota’s North American manufacturing and engineering unit. “And that’s a prototype vehicle, not a mass-produced vehicle. We’re looking at reducing the cost even more.”

A Toyota engineer in Japan reportedly has priced Toyota’s commercial fuel-cell model targeted for 2015 at $50,000, but Ward declines to confirm that number.

Toyota in the past has said there would be another fuel-cell prototype between the current FCHV-adv and the 2015 retail model, meaning further significant cost reduction before commercialization is likely.

“We want to make sure we can bring it in at a price that makes sense (for consumers),” Ward says, echoing Toyota’s mantra for all its advanced-technology vehicles.

One way Toyota is saving money is by bringing in-house the manufacture of hydrogen storage tanks, Ward says, harkening back to the auto maker’s roots as a loom manufacturer.

About a year-and-a-half ago, Toyota hit on an advancement allowing it to make the carbon-fiber tanks for less than it could purchase them from an outside supplier, he says.

The auto maker initially approached defense contractors for expertise, as most carbon-fiber tank-wrapping machines are built for military application.

That was abandoned in favor of the in-house process using automotive manufacturing techniques shown to be faster and more efficient.

“What we’ve done is looked at the best wrapping machines out there in the industry, and we’ve developed our own, (which) is six times faster than the current state-of-the-art,” Ward says. “And production quality is much, much better.

“We have less variance across our batches. So we think we’re going to have a significant advantage on the tanks and reducing the cost of the vehicle.”

Toyota believes even further efficiencies can be achieved in tank manufacturing between now and the 2015 commercialization target.

Ward says midsize passenger vehicles and heavy-duty vehicles are the likely recipients of hydrogen fuel-cell powertrains.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com