There is little doubt that the United States has some of the most onerous automotive safety regulations in the world, and sometimes that makes selling a new kind of car technology difficult. Toyota is asking for a special exemption for its FCV hydrogen fuel cell car that has to do with the separation of high-voltage components and the safety of first responders.
Bloomberg reports that the rule, FMVSS No. 305, requires automakers to isolate high-voltage components in the event of an accident in order to prevent first responders from being electrocuted. Unfortunately for Toyota, such a mechanism would render the FCV inoperable, even after a minor fender bender.
The Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model S, and other electric vehicles all integrate such a system, but Toyota is petitioning the NHTSA for a special exemption from this rule. Instead, Toyota says it will wrap high-voltage wires in extra insulation and protect the hydrogen fuel stack, electric motor, and battery with metal barriers.
With Toyota limiting sales to just 2,500 units a year at first, it’s likely the NHTSA will grant Toyota its exemption for the first couple of years while engineers figure out a better solution for the $69,000 FCV. I have to say though, for all of Toyota’s bluster on the greatness of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, the fact that they’re seeking safety exemptions isn’t exactly encouraging. The hydrogen fuel tanks may be bulletproof, but is extra insulation and metal barriers going to prevent an inexperienced first responder from getting shocked or even killed?
Toyota seems to think so, though ultimately the answer lies with the NHTSA, and while it seems unlikely, what will Toyota do if its exemption is denied? Without the RAV4 EV and Tesla to fall back on, Toyota has put all its eggs in a basket called the FCV..