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Saturday, April 08, 2006

Toyota Promises to Unviel an In-Wheel Motor Hydrogen-Electric Hybrid Concept at Upcoming New York Auto Show

Toyota Motor Company is bringing its Fine-T hydrogen-electric hybrid concept car to the New York Auto Show next week, Green Car Congress reports.

The concept, which made its world premier at the 2005 Tokyo Motor Show as the Fine-X, is powered by four in-wheel electric motors. Like Mitsubishi's all-electric in-wheel motor concept, the MIEV Concept-EZ, the Fine-T takes advantage of the in-wheel motors' space saving charactaristics to offer a compact mono-box design that is as small as a Toyota Yaris on the outside but as roomy as a mid-size wagon on the inside. The electric motors, hydrogen stack, tanks, batteries and other electric drive components are mounted beneath the vehicle floor or in or near the wheels, allowing availabe cabin space to extend nearly the entire length of the vehicle making for a comfortable roomy interior while keeping the exterior size compact and helping create a low center of gravity.

According to Green Car Congress, 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 reportedly adopts a new alloy catalyst, which reduces the amount of precious metals used.

The ultra-low emissions Fine-T hydrogen-electric hybrid concept, developed by Environment and Safety Toyota, is intended to demonstrate how close a vehicle can come to having zero effect on the environment. 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, GCC reports.

Judging from pictures of the concept's predecesor, the Fine-X, the interior of the concept features a 'futuristic' design with plenty of LEDs and video-displays. For added visibility, the Fine-T is reportedly equipped with peripheral monitoring video cameras. A front-view camera installed above the license plate, a rear-view camera below the Toyota badge, and side cameras located at each side door handle allow the driver to monitor the periphery of the vehicle for obstacles on large display monitors.

The Fine-T is designed to offer major advancements in handling performance when driving on narrow roads and when parking in tight areas, helping to maximize the driving experience. 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 [translation: both the front and back wheels can be turned through wide arcs of up to 180 degrees]

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 apparently 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, allowing you to literally 'turn on a dime'.

The Fine-T's independent four-wheel drive system, independent four-wheel steering and under-floor mounting of the fuel-cell system contribute to the concept's low center of gravity, which is lower than most vehicles. This and the vehicle's low movement of inertia add to the Fine-T's driving stability.

Getting in and out of the Fine-T is made easy by the concept's wide gull-wing doors and "Welcome Seats." When the doors open, the seats swivel to face the door allowing you to easily sit down or stand up from the seat. Once the driver or passanger is seated, the seat glides back automatically to the driving position [i.e. facing forward]. To leave the vehicle, a press of a button moves the seat to the egress position allowing the driver to simply stand up to exit the vehicle. In addition, the drive-by-wire steering system stows away automatically when entering and exiting the vehicle [check out the interior picture above and you'll see the swiveling stearing column].

Well, this is the first I've seen in the way of in-wheel motor concepts from anyone other than Mitsubishi [whose work we've written about a few times here before: here, here and here. I am very intruiged by the freedom to innovate that an in-wheel architecture gives you and I'm happy to see some new vehicle designs that start to move away from the tradition vehicle forms that have been imposed by the use of an internal combustion engine.

An in-wheel electric motors architecture can be paired with any all-electric drive system and now, with the Fine-T (hydrogen-electric hybrid) added to the ranks of Mistubishi's MIEV Concept-EZ (all-electric) and Concept-CT (electric-dominant series-parallel hybrid), we've seen a number of potential configurations. So, when is the plug-in hybrid coming? A hydrogen plug-in perhaps...


jcwinnie said...

FCHVs (Fuel Cell Hybrid Vehicles), a.k.a., plug-in, hydrogen hybrids, already exist.

Two examples:

1. Before Think! folded they had shown a Think! City FCHV

2. Toyota had provided eight units of its FCHV-BUS to transport visitors between various venues at EXPO 2005 in Aichi, Japan.

Jesse Jenkins said...

Thanks for the tip. I was not aware that a plug-in hydrogen hybrid had been developed although there's obviously nothing preventing one as all the technology components have been developed.

Is Toyota's FCHV-BUS a plug-in? It looked from your post like it was a grid-independent hybrid fuel cell vehicle.