Toyota will start limited marketing of a fuel cell hybrid (FCHV) sport utility vehicle (SUV) in Japan and the US around the end of this year, much earlier than originally planned.

The earlier launch reflects the successful results of a year of testing in the two countries of the FCHV-4 prototype, and, Toyota claims, its response to "society's expectations for cleaner mobility solutions".

The SUV, based on the Kluger-V in Japan and the Highlander in the United States, will be a newly developed FCHV featuring conventional vehicle-like performance based on improvements to the FCHV-4's reliability, cruising distance, functionality and other aspects.

Lowering costs, cold temperature performance and other issues remain.  Therefore, the fuel cell-powered SUVs, to be available by lease, will be offered only to select private sectors, technology related companies, institutional organisations and research facilities.

Although terms have yet to be determined, Toyota plans to lease a total of approximately 20 units during the first year to entities that have access to hydrogen-supply infrastructure and after-sales service.

Toyota began testing the FCHV-4 on public roads in Japan in June 2001 and the United States a month later. So far, FCHV-4s have covered a cumulative 110,000 kilometres (68,000 miles) on and off the test track, providing valuable insight toward the commercialisation of FCHVs.

Expected to heighten consumer acceptance of hydrogen as a fuel, Toyota marketing of an FCHV is integral to the establishment of the standards and infrastructures necessary for the popularisation and full-scale commercialisation of fuel cell-powered vehicles.