In the past, many carmakers would wait until a motorshow begins to unveil their latest models or concept cars but these days, perhaps to draw more visitors, pictures and information on new models and concept cars are released prior to the motorshow; in this case, it is the Tokyo Motorshow which will start next week.

Toyota today revealed two new concept vehicles which use hydrogen fuel cells, a follow-on from the Mirai fuel-cell vehicle that is on sale. One of the concept vehicles is a premium 6-seat sedan known as the Fine-Comfort Ride, while the other is a 79-seat concept bus called Sora (an acronym for Sky, Ocean, River, Air – representing the earth’s water cycle).

Fine stands for ‘Future IN Electrified Vehicle’ and Comfort Ride embodies the concept of a comfortable space for transportation, suitable for a next-generation premium car. It is a continuation of the Fine-S fuel-cell concept vehicle displayed in 2003.

The Fine-Comfort Ride concept sedan thus gives a preview of high-performance motoring in future with a 310 kW (equivalent to about 420 ps) motor which can take the car to a top speed of 220 km/h after accelerating from standstill to 100 km/h in 5.4 seconds. A range of approximately 1,000 kms is claimed to be possible with a full tank of hydrogen. Refuelling time is expected to be just 3 minutes.

Toyota envisages the Fine-Comfort Ride operating in a low-carbon society with advanced use of hydrogen and renewable energy. The fuel-cell stack is located at the front of the vehicle while the hydrogen tank is under the floor. Quiet and smooth running, the car makes full use of the large amount of electricity provided by hydrogen as its energy source.

Its exterior design adopts a diamond-shaped cabin that narrows towards the rear, offering maximum space for occupants while achieving excellent aerodynamic performance. A flexible layout is made possible by adopting an in-wheel motor, positioning the wheels at the very corners of the vehicle, and utilising a body underside cover for the ride stability and quietness expected in a premium car.

The interior design concept is about being wrapped in comfort with the advance autonomous functions and the touch display arranged around the driver and passenger seats. Seats allow for flexible adjustment according to posture, and the displays provide free access to information by the driver and passengers. The seat layout is also flexible; for example, drivers can take their hands off the steering wheel and turn their seat around to converse with passengers.

The Sora concept bus is close to a production model and Toyota plans to start sales next year. More than 100 such buses will be made available ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Toyota developed the Sora concept bus to make best use of the characteristics of the fuel-cell unit and to enhance the comfort of passengers travelling on bus routes. Its fuel-cell system is adapted from the one developed for the Mirai and delivers superior environmental performance with no carbon dioxide emissions or substances of concern emitted when in operation.

The Sora uses two 114 kW fuel-cell stacks and two 113 kW/335Nm electric motors with 10 high-pressure hydrogen tanks that can store up to 600 litres of hydrogen. It is equipped with a high-capacity external power supply system, providing high maximum output of 9 kW and 235 kWh supply.

This enables the bus to be used as an emergency power source. For example, it can power evacuation sites such as school gymnasiums and community centres for about 5 days with lights on for six hours per day (50 kWh per day).

The designers paid close attention to convenience, safety and peace of mind. 8 high-definition cameras fitted inside and outside the vehicle detect pedestrians and bicycles around the bus, providing a peripheral monitoring function that warns the driver with sound and images to improve safety.

For the safety of standing passengers, an acceleration control function enables gentle acceleration from stops. There is no lurching due to the lack of a need for gear-shifting. Seats automatically fold up when not in use to provide space for strollers or wheelchairs.

The concept bus also has futuristic features that will not be available on the production model released next year. Toyota will introduce these features as and when the urban infrastructure is able to facilitate them.

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[Chips Yap]

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