Hydrogen Fuel Cells
Hydrogen Fuel Cells

One promising technology that Toyota has been pursuing is the hydrogen fuel cell. Fuel cells combine hydrogen gas with oxygen from the air to create a stream of electrons that can power electric motors. (They also create water as a by-product.)

But hydrogen gas isn't just floating around freely. It has to be made -- usually from either natural gas or water -- using electricity. So fuel cell cars are basically electric cars that use hydrogen, instead of batteries and wires, to move electricity from the power plant to your car.

The advantages are that it's much quicker to fill a hydrogen tank than to charge a battery and you can squeeze in more driving range, too.

The big downside is the fueling infrastructure. There just aren't too many places to fill up a hydrogen car. With a number of fuel cell models set to come to market in the next few years from several different automakers, it's hoped that energy companies will seize the opportunity and build more stations.

The Japanese automaker has been vocal in its lack of enthusiasm for pure electric cars. Still, like other automakers, Toyota will be putting out pure-electric cars soon. In one case, it will be a tiny, limited-range car intended only for fleets. In the other it will be an electric version of the Rav4 built in partnership with Tesla.

Electric cars have their place, Toyota says, but they still present too many limitations for the typical American driver.

By Peter Valdes-Dapena @PeterDrives - Last updated February 15 2012: 2:31 PM ET
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