Toyota is taking on the hydrogen fuel-cell car haters -- including Elon Musk

Elon Musk doesn’t have a high opinion of the hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered car. Back in 2013, in Germany, he infamously called the technology “so bullshit.” He’s also referred to fuel-cells as “fool cells.”

Toyota, on the other hand, is big on fuel-cells and hydrogen. The automaker is bringing a new vehicle, the Mirai, to market later this year, after revealing the hydrogen-powered 4-door in late 2014.

The challenge for Toyota isn’t simply to introduce the whole idea of running a car on hydrogen, something that’s unfamiliar due to the very small number of fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) on the road, as well as the limited refuelling network. It’s also to overcome negative impressions of FCEVs. When Elon Musk talks, people listen.

In a new ad campaign produced by the agency Droga5 and tagged “Fuelled by Everything,” Toyota is taking the direct approach. The company is showing, quite literally, how a Mirai can run on bullshit.

The first 3-minute spot, “Fuelled by Bullsh*t,” was directed by Morgan Spurlock. In it, fuel-cell engineer Scott Blanchet introduces the concept then heads for a dairy farm, where a farmer provides access to a huge pile of cow dung. The engineer loads up, the drives off to introduce us to the hydrogen-extraction process. Essentially, the poop marinates in large pools and generates biogas, which can then have the hydrogen removed. The dairy farmer returns, he and the engineer fuel up a Mirai, and they drive back to farm.

Presto! A fuel-cell car that runs on bullshit! Well, cow shit mostly, but maybe there’s a bull in that herd someplace.

It’s a cheeky execution that capitalises on one prominent naysayer’s disdain for FCEVs — an understandable disdain, as Musk and Tesla are selling electric cars that require recharging, not refuelling.

“Witnessing manure, something most of us view as being pretty disposable, being transformed into hydrogen fuel to power a car was pretty remarkable. I think this short film is pretty compelling evidence of what could be possible in the years ahead,” Spurlock said in a statement.

Fuel-cell critics argue that it’s too expensive to create the hydrogen required to make FCEVs go. To get enough hydrogen, we’d need to burn a lot of fossil fuels, at least until we manage to bring more solar and wind power online, or shift to nuclear in a much bigger way.

FCEVs have two things going for them, however. Like gas-powered cars, they can be quickly refueled and deliver good range. And fuel cells use hydrogen to generate electricity, with water as the only by-product. Toyota, at one time a partner with Tesla on electric-vehicle development, has recently adjusted its strategy and, with the Mirai, revived interest in FCEVs.

Tesla declined to comment on the ad.

Here’s the video spot, from Toyota USA’s YouTube channel:

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