Toyota Isn’t Betting All Its Research on EV Trucks

2024 toyota hilux hydrogen prototype
Toyota Isn’t Betting It All on EV TrucksDominic Fraser
  • Toyota UK completes demonstration fleet of Hilux hydrogen fuel-cell prototypes, using hardware from the Mirai sedan.

  • The first prototype was completed in 2023 in record time, with Toyota and partners building a fleet of 10 trucks for customer and media demos.

  • Toyota is one of several automakers backing hydrogen fuel-cell powertrains, predicting a future where EVs and FCEVs will exist side by side.

Toyota has been betting on hydrogen for a while and has been willing to take pretty big risks on the technology, including fielding the Mirai sedan in a relatively confined part of the US (the West Coast).


Since the Mirai debuted, it hasn't exactly become easier to find hydrogen, including in the few parts of the country where you're within driving distance of a station.

Last fall Toyota Manufacturing UK surprised the ZEV truck world by building a hydrogen fuel-cell version of its Hilux pickup. Using the powertrain of the Mirai sedan along with three high-pressure hydrogen fuel tanks, the Hilux prototype boast a range of 365 miles—greater than that of a comparable battery-electric truck, the automaker claimed.

Now Toyota's UK unit has taken the concept a step further, completing 10 prototypes intended for a demonstration fleet. Five of the trucks are currently going through field testing with the automaker, while the other five are part of a customer and media fleet.

The reason this is happening in Europe is because the automaker expects it to become one of the largest hydrogen fuel-cell markets by the end of the decade, which seems plausible if strictly in a relative sense.

But this project is more than just a test fleet, as in December of last year Toyota revealed plans for Hydrogen Factory Europe, seeking to commercialize hydrogen fuel-cell tech on a larger scale.

One way of looking at Toyota's hydrogen truck optimism is that the automaker already has all the parts. The Hilux truck is an existing platform, the Mirai drivetrain is existing hardware, and a lithium-ion battery is also on board beneath the cargo bed.

So the vast majority of the needed parts are already in Toyota's component pipeline, even though some outside companies including Ricardo also took part in the project.

"Prototype construction took place between June and July 2023 and the first vehicle was completed in just three weeks," Toyota points out. "A further nine prototypes were assembled prior to a thorough evaluation phase from July to December last year, including test rig and track testing."

2024 toyota hilux hydrogen prototype
The Hilux has been Toyota’s workhorse overseas for decades. Toyota

But does the Hilux hydrogen project preview a production rollout anytime soon?

The answer is a little murky, even though given all the money that has been poured into hydrogen—at the expense of EV tech, the skeptics will claim—Toyota could indeed put a hydrogen Hilux into production if it wanted to, and could likely find commercial customers.

As with hydrogen semi trucks, the greatest promise for hydrogen truck adoption in the short term is seen from commercial fleets that could use on-site hydrogen production stations. This is still a relatively narrow category, but it does exist in the industrial sector in Europe, among chemical giants like BASF.

Such fleets could be local in scope, with industrial giants using them as utility vehicles on the grounds of plants and nearby, but it would be one of the first steps in making hydrogen trucks a reality while European infrastructure catches up.

Despite Toyota's continued optimism for hydrogen, we suspect we might see an electric pickup from the automaker go on sale stateside before we see a hydrogen truck. The barriers to hydrogen vehicle adoption even in narrow pockets of the US remain daunting, even though there has been some progress with much larger semis.

"Along with Toyota's 30 years of research and development into hydrogen fuel cells, know-how from the Hilux project will contribute to the next generation of fuel cell technology, which will offer longer lifecycles, increased driving range for vehicles and significantly reduced costs," the automaker said.

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One other particular industry that has been interested in ZEV trucks, to the point of having specialist firms build custom Toyota trucks from available parts, is the mining industry.

We have a feeling it will be one of the first sectors to take an interest in FCEV powertrains if Toyota were to offer them commercially in the coming years. But battery-electric trucks could still beat them to market, especially in Europe.

Will we see a greater variety of hydrogen vehicles in the US in coming years, or is this an evolutionary dead end when it comes to ZEV models? Let us know what you think in the comments below.