One of the Toyota Sora buses, photographed in Japan on November 5, 2021. Toyota began working on fuel cell vehicles back in 1992.

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Toyota Motor Europe, CaetanoBus and Air Liquide have signed an agreement to develop hydrogen-based transport options as the race to develop low-emission, zero-emission cars erupts.

In a statement Tuesday, Toyota said the deal would focus on what it called “closer cooperation in developing opportunities for hydrogen mobility projects in several European countries.” CaetanoBus is based in Portugal and is part of Toyota Caetano Portugal and Mitsui & Co.

Firms are going to focus on a number of areas related to hydrogen, including infrastructure related to distribution and refueling; production of low-carbon and renewable hydrogen; and the deployment of hydrogen in a number of vehicle types.

Toyota said the initial focus would be on “buses, light commercial vehicles and vehicles with a further goal to accelerate the heavy truck segment.”

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Toyota began working on fuel cell vehicles, where hydrogen from a tank mixes with oxygen to produce electricity, back in 1992. In 2014, it released the Mirai, a sedan on hydrogen fuel cells. The company says its fuel cell cars emit nothing but water from the exhaust pipe.

Together with Mirai Toyota has been instrumental in developing larger cars on hydrogen fuel cells. Among them are a bus called Sora and prototypes of heavy trucks. In addition to fuel cells, Toyota is also considering the use of hydrogen in internal combustion engines.

While the Japanese car giant is looking to advance its plans for hydrogen-powered vehicles – firms like Hyundai and BMW are also looking at hydrogen – other influential voices in the automotive sector are less confident.

In June 2020, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted “fuel cells = fool sells”, adding in July of that year: “It doesn’t make sense to sell a hydrogen fool.”

In February 2021, Herbert Diss, CEO of the German Volkswagen Group, also spoke on the subject. “It’s time for politicians to accept science,” he tweeted.

“Green hydrogen is needed for steel production, the chemical industry, aviation … and should not end up in cars. Too expensive, inefficient, slow and difficult to deploy and transport. After all: no #hydrogen cars in sight.”

While Dis and Musk seem wary when it comes to the prospects for hydrogen in cars, their focus on rechargeable electric cars puts them in direct competition with other firms such as GM and Ford.

The latter’s CEO Jim Farley recently said that his business plans to “challenge Tesla and all who want to become the best electrician in the world”.

The drive to find alternatives with zero and low emissions of diesel and gasoline comes at a time when major economies are developing plans to reduce the environmental footprint of road transport.

In Europe, for example, the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, has proposed a 100% reduction in CO2 emissions from cars and vans by 2035.

On Tuesday, Ford of Europe, Volvo Cars and a number of other well-known companies signed a joint letter asking the governments of the EU and the European Parliament to give the green light to the Commission’s proposal.

The letter calls on representatives of the EU government and MEPs to “put into effect a phasing out of new cars and vans with internal combustion engines (including hybrids) no later than 2035.”

“This should be enshrined in law by setting targets for vehicle manufacturers for CO2 emissions for 2035 at 0 grams of CO2 / km,” the letter said.

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