For the past 20 years, Toyota has been working on a vehicle that could revolutionize the way we get around. It’s virtually silent, its emissions are so clean you could drink them, and it’s finally ready to hit the streets next year. Meet the 2015 Toyota FCV – the first fuel cell vehicle you’ll actually be able to buy. We recently had a chance to jump behind the wheel and test drive Toyota’s hydrogen fuel cell car in San Francisco – read on for our first thoughts and 10 things you need to know about this groundbreaking vehicle.

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Hybrids are everywhere on today’s roads, and all-electric vehicles are on the rise. While Elon Musk is setting his sights on a cheaper plug-in EV with the Tesla Model III, Toyota is planning to kick-start a hydrogen revolution with its upcoming Fuel Cell Vehicle (FCV). Here are 10 things you should know:

1. It looks like a future car

 

You don’t start a revolution with conservative lines and subtle styling. The Toyota FCV looks like it just flew in off the set of Blade Runner. Toyota’s electric blue FCV concept made a splash when it was unveiled earlier this year – and now that the vehicle’s exterior has been finalized we’re happy to say that its most distinctive features remain.

The aggressive air intake valves and laser-sharp LED beams are sure to turn heads, and the vehicle’s sharp lines flex energetically in a way the Prius and the Nissan Leaf never did. The production vehicle will be available in black, silver, and metallic blue, and the interior has yet to be unveiled – although we can expect to catch a glimpse later this year at an “upcoming auto show.” Hint: Los Angeles

2. It drives like a normal car

 

We stepped inside a test mule vehicle outfitted with Toyota’s fuel cell powertrain and we were surprised by how familiar it is. We hit the ignition button, pulled into drive and glided down San Francisco’s Embarcadero, enjoying its peppy acceleration and smooth handling.

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3. It’s (almost) completely silent

 

When we pressed the ignition button, we had to double check that the vehicle was actually on. The Toyota FCV is technically an electric vehicle powered by a hydrogen fuel cell stack, so it’s virtually silent – the only noise you’ll hear while driving is the sound of wind and the wheels on pavement. Well, that’s not entirely true – the vehicle is so quiet that Toyota will be implementing an audio effect at low speeds to alert cyclists and passersby to the vehicle’s presence.

4. It only emits water

 

We asked Toyota Technical Center engineer Jared Farnsworth what exactly goes on under the hood, and he said: “A fuel cell is an electrochemical device, which means there’s no moving parts or anything like that. It takes oxygen from the air, and hydrogen which we store in tanks, and it generates electricity – and the only byproduct is water, which comes out the tailpipe. It’s a zero emission electric vehicle, so there’s no burning of oil or gas – it’s purely electric.”

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5. It gets 300 miles on a full tank

The only part of the interface you won’t be familiar with is the hydrogen nozzle on the fuel tank – but it behaves much like a standard fuel pump. Refueling will take 3-5 minutes – the same amount of time that it takes to fill a combustion vehicle – and the vehicle will have a range of 300 miles on a full tank.

6. It’s over 20 years in the making

 

It’s been a long road to the FCV – Toyota’s first hydrogen vehicle was the FCHV, which was first unveiled in 1997. Since then there’s been five iterations of the FCHV-adv – and we had a chance to drive the most recent last week. It performed reasonably well, although its large SUV profile makes it a bit of clunker compared to the much nimbler FCV.

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7. It’s the first fuel cell vehicle you buy at a dealership

 

We’ve covered plenty of fuel cell vehicles here on Inhabitat – but the Toyota FCV will be the first commercially-available hydrogen electric car. Toyota plans to launch the FCV in Japan in the spring of 2015, and it will be coming to Europe and the U.S. next summer.

California will be the first state to score the FCV – thanks largely to the the California Energy Commission’s allocation of $200 million for hydrogen fueling stations. Dealerships will stock the FCV in areas that have existing hydrogen infrastructure – like the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and Orange County. Expect launches to follow in the Northeast States.

8. It will be affordable

 

Toyota knows that in order for fuel cell technology to take off, it needs to be affordable. To this end, they’ve managed to cut the cost of fuel cell powertrains and fuel tanks by a full 95%. Pricing has yet to be announced for the FCV, although Toyota hinted that it will cost more than a Prius but less than a Tesla.

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9. It’s safe and reliable

 

Hydrogen may have an explosive reputation, but it’s really no more or less dangerous than gasoline. Toyota engineered the FCV’s hydrogen tanks from ultra-durable carbon fiber, and the vehicle has performed admirably in crash tests.

It’s also reliable – Jared Farnsworth told Inhabitat that he’s driven the FCV through harsh conditions ranging from frigid winters in Yellowknife, Canada to blistering summers in Death Valley.

10. It’s scaleable

 

Fuel cell technology isn’t limited to cars – Toyota recently teamed up with Hino Motors to produce a fuel cell bus, so the tech can provide personal mobility as well as mass transportation. Toyota was also able to incorporate some of the technologies it developed for hybrid and electric vehicles – like regenerative braking systems and batteries.

+ Toyota FCV

Photos by Mike Chino for Inhabitat