Toyota, Nissan and Honda have agreed key details of a new joint project to develop hydrogen refuelling infrastructure in Japan.

In addition to partially covering the operating costs of hydrogen stations, the three automakers have also agreed to help infrastructure companies working on a refuelling network.

The joint project (conducted alongside the Japanese government's support for hydrogen stations) will partially cover hydrogen station operating expenses incurred by infrastructure companies, and was first announced on 12 February. Project partners also will jointly raise awareness of support measures, in order to encourage new companies to enter the hydrogen supply business. Financial assistance will be provided through the Research Association of Hydrogen Supply/Utilisation Technology (HySUT), which is setting up a project to stimulate demand for FCVs.

To help popularise FCVs by creating a reliable hydrogen fueling environment, the three automakers will work with infrastructure companies to use information such as customer needs and hydrogen station operating rates to improve customer service levels; improve the convenience of stations by increasing the number of days they are open, extending their business hours, enhancing and providing operational information, and developing hydrogen station infrastructure that is easy to access; raise public awareness about FCVs and hydrogen.

"For FCVs to gain popularity, creating attractive products is only half of the equation," the automakers said in a statement.

"Hydrogen station infrastructure must also be developed to ensure ease of use for customers; however, infrastructure companies face difficulties constructing and operating hydrogen stations. FCVs are a new entry into the market, and hydrogen station revenues are expected to remain low due to the limited number of cars currently on the road."

In June 2014, the Japanese government unveiled its Strategic Road Map for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells which involves subsidising the construction of hydrogen stations and reviewing regulations. Last February, the government decided to partially subsidise hydrogen station operational expenses in order to help stimulate new demand for FCVs.

Toyota launched the Mirai FCV in late 2014 while Honda plans to launch a new FCV "before April 2016" and Nissan plans one "as early as 2017".

Through this project, the three automakers plan to steadily support hydrogen station infrastructure in the medium term until FCVs become well established in Japan and the development of hydrogen station infrastructure is well under way (potentially around 2020, the automakers think).