Auto Outlook: Toyota unveils fuel cell car, Point-click-spend $30,000

By AL SWANSON, UPI Auto Writer
The Toyota FCV Concept, Toyota's next generation fuel-cell vehicle, is expected to go into production in 2015. The hydrogen-fueled four-seater will have a range of 310 miles with zero emissions. (Photo Courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc.)
1 of 6 | The Toyota FCV Concept, Toyota's next generation fuel-cell vehicle, is expected to go into production in 2015. The hydrogen-fueled four-seater will have a range of 310 miles with zero emissions. (Photo Courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc.)

Toyota, which created the gas-electric Prius, last week rolled out a concept model of its long-awaited fuel cell sedan.

The new Toyota FCV is expected to go into production in about two years, but is dependent on creation of an infrastructure of hydrogen refueling stations.


The FCV uses hydrogen to produce at least 100kW of electricity from a fuel cell with only heat and water as byproducts. It's considered the ultimate zero emissions vehicle.

The range of the futuristic four-seater is around 310 miles, but unlike an all-electric vehicle it only takes about three minutes to refuel. The cost of a tank of hydrogen is expected to be about the same as a tank of gasoline for a conventional car.

"There is no compromise in range or operating in the cold and it refuels a lot like a regular engine," Bill Fay, general manager of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., told the Los Angeles Times.


The FCV will be on display at the 43rd Tokyo Auto Show this month.

Internet car sales

Anyone who buys a new car without first doing some research on the Internet is either lazy or crazy, but can the same be said for buyers who actually purchase a vehicle online.

With tons of information, from in-depth auto reviews to pricing, available at the click of a computer mouse or touch of a fingertip on a tablet, doing research online before making the purchase is a no-brainer.

General Motors Co. thinks more consumers are ready to avoid the wheeling and dealing that goes on in the showroom entirely and the No. 1 Detroit automaker is rolling out a new online shopping tool.

Some consumers rate buying a new car from a dealer about the same as do-it-yourself dentistry.

More new car sales are being negotiated by email, which eliminates a lot of variables for savvy consumers who don't feel confident taking on a wily salesperson on the dealer's home court. It's easier to find the vehicle you want, equipped the way you want, and get the price you want without all the face-to-face haggling.

Call it the art of the virtual deal.


But there's that leap of faith of shelling out tens of thousands of dollars [plus tax] for a vehicle you may have never even driven.

"We want people to start buying cars over the Internet," said GM Chief Executive Officer Dan Akerson, who added it "doesn't mean we're going to bypass our dealers."

As it expands, GM's web-based application called Shop-Click-Drive will give shoppers electronic access to the entire network of 4,300 brick-and-mortar dealers, allowing shoppers to negotiate a price, get an estimate of the value of a trade-in, and apply for financing.

Shoppers can schedule a test drive or request the new vehicle be delivered to their driveway or parking spot.

If the experience sounds a lot like buying an appliance on, there's no doubt of the comparison.

Tesla Motors, which manufacturers the all-electric Model S sedan, pushed sales through its website but ran afoul of franchise laws that protect dealers' turf in many states. Dealers like to get customers inside the showroom where they can try to sell them expensive add-ons, extended service contracts, insurance products and service work.

More than have 100 dealers signed up for a test of GM's online shopping app since January and have sold more than 1,000 vehicles online in eight states, the Detroit Free Press reported.


"I never even walked into the dealership or met my salesperson," said Debbie Mahaffy of Gladwin, Mich., describing her purchase of a new 2013 Chevrolet Camaro to The Wall Street Journal. "I never even test-drove it. I wanted to do everything strictly by email."

GM says only about 10 cars have been delivered directly to buyers and stresses that Stop-Click-Drive is not intended to eliminate dealers or showrooms.

"There are a lot of people who do things online, and those customers are asking the question: Why can't I buy a car online?" said Jim Bement, the manager of GM's online retailing program. GM says dealers like the program because it generates high-quality leads and a higher rate of sales than other referrals.

Most potential new car buyers prefer shopping on the Internet and taking a test drive at the dealership before writing that check -- or making an electronic funds transfer.

Ford, Toyota plug-in hybrid sales up, Volt lags

Sales of plug-in hybrid vehicles rose in October except for the Chevrolet Volt, which saw its sales dip about 32 percent.

Automakers sold 39,083 plug-in hybrids January through October, compared to 29,075 in the first 10 months of 2012.


Thirty-eight percent of the plug-ins were sold in California, but nearly a third were purchased in New York, Boston and Detroit. Toyota cut the price of its entry-level Prius plug-in hybrid by $2,010 in October to boost sales.

Despite falling gasoline prices after Labor Day, Ford sold 2,170 Fusion and C-Max Energi models, while Toyota sold 2,095 Prius plug-ins -- up 7 percent -- and Chevy sold 2,022 gas-electric Volts. Volt sales are down 2.7 percent for the first 10 months of 2013, The Detroit News said.

Plug-in hybrids, which are plugged in to recharge batteries but have gasoline engines that power a generator running the electric motor, are becoming the more popular. But they still account for less than 1 percent of total U.S. vehicle sales.

Ford sold just 115 all-electric Focus Electric models in October, but Nissan sold 2,002 all-electric Leaf models, up 27 percent from September.

Mitsubishi partnering with Renault-Nissan

The 14-year-old Renault-Nissan alliance has expanded with the addition of Japanese automaker Mitsubishi.

Mitsubishi and Renault-Nissan last Tuesday announced an agreement to share factories and technology to develop products for North America and emerging markets. One of the first will be a full-size sedan to be sold under the Mitsubishi nameplate in North America, The Wall Street Journal reported.


The sedan will be built by Renault's South Korean subsidiary Renault Samsung Motors.

Renault-Nissan already has partnerships with Germany's Daimler AG and Russia's AvtoVAZ.

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