Toyota is still pushing hard for Hydrogen powered cars to be the next big thing.

They have plans to release a hydrogen powered version of the Corolla and Prius in 2023. Anyone think this is actually going to catch on or is Toyota grasping at straws here?

Toyota is one of the last major manufacturers to launch an electric vehicle, holding back its introductory ‘bZ’ EV debut until 2022. The reasoning behind that stance is explained in the last paragraph. In the meantime however, Japan’s No 1 carmaker has been heavily pushing hydrogen as a viable future carbon neutral fuel through its production of the Mirai fuel cell car and its planned heavy-duty truck fuel cell module assembly in Kentucky, with at least two more hydrogen-powered models—a Prius and a Corolla—destined to land in showrooms by the end of 2022.

As the world’s first mass-produced hybrid vehicle, the Prius debuted in 1997, and over the next two decades, the brand expanded its hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains to encompass the whole lineup. About the only models that don’t offer hybrid options are sports cars like the Supra, GR Yaris and GR86. Even the Land Cruiser is expecting a hybrid spec version in 2022.

And now, Toyota plans to launch an all-new 5th generation, 1.8-liter Prius gasoline-hybrid in December 2022, and will add a hydrogen-powered PHEV version to its lineup in 2023. This will be the first time that Japan’s largest carmaker has blended its two signature technologies, plug-in hybrids and hydrogen power.

But that’s not all. In late 2022, Toyota will launch the Corolla Sports GR, a 4WD high performance five-door hatchback model that employs the same 257 hp 1.6-liter, 3-cylinder gasoline turbocharged engine as the multiple award-winning (UK Car of the Year etc) GR Yaris. And yes, the GR Yaris may not have made it to U.S. shores but the hot Corolla hatch is expected to.

While this particular Corolla does not use hydrogen, Toyota has indicated their future plans to launch a hydrogen-powered Corolla by 2023, after having competed in Japan’s only all-day race ‘The Fuji 24-hours’ using a Corolla powered by hydrogen. This will not be a fuel-cell car like the Mirai but use hydrogen to power its engine. The reasons for this switch are twofold: to achieve its goal of carbon neutral by 2050, and to improve fuel efficiency across the range.

The reasoning is simple? Apart from aiming to achieve its carbon neutral goal by 2050, and improving fuel economy, Toyota will use its motorsport program to promote hydrogen as a viable alternative to electric cars. Toyota has only just launched its second-generation hydrogen fuel-cell powered Mirai sedan, but this is the first time the company has raced a car powered by hydrogen.

To avoid confusion, we should explain here that the Mirai’s powertrain and that of the Corolla race car, and 2023 model year Prius for that matter, are very different. The Mirai generates electricity to power its motors from a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen in the fuel cells, where as hydrogen engined vehicles like the upcoming Corolla, are similar to conventional engined cars except that they burn hydrogen in place of gasoline. And the next generation Prius will use hydrogen to power its plug-in hybrid system, in stead of gasoline.

What Toyota is trying to say through it hydrogen powertrain development, but getting caught up in media criticism that it is ignoring the industry trend towards electric vehicles, is that manufacturers should be striving to become more multi-faceted ‘mobility suppliers’ and aiming for a more balanced mix of powertrain technologies across their lineups, a mix that includes hybrids, plug-in hybrids, EVs, fuel cell cars like the Mirai and hydrogen powered engines like the Corolla.

To explain the firm’s slow adoption of electric cars, a Toyota spokesman in 2019 mentioned that Toyota is able to produce enough batteries for 28,000 electric cars each year, or 1.5 million hybrid cars. One other important factor is emissions. Toyota says that selling 1.5 million hybrid cars reduces carbon emissions by a third more than selling 28,000 electric cars. So, put simply, its carbon footprint is smaller if it sells many more gasoline-electric hybrid and hydrogen powered vehicles.