TOKYO—Toyota's latest high-tech concept vehicle is quite a moonshot. Literally.
Japan's biggest auto maker is hard at work building a six-wheeled, pressurized, hydrogen-powered moon rover it hopes to have traversing the rocky lunar surface in a decade.
The vehicle—called Lunar Cruiser as an extraterrestrial shoutout to the brand's Earth-bound Land Cruiser—will be the ultimate test of Toyota's talent in making durable, reliable vehicles. One slip-up on the moon, and there's no roadside assistance—or return—for the rover's hapless crew.
More importantly, the Lunar Rover symbolizes Toyota President Akio Toyoda's quest to conquer new horizons as he reinvents Toyota Motor Corp. into a new mobility company. The rover will brim with the technologies of tomorrow, from its fuel cell powertrain to its autonomous driving system.
The gambit is partly an outgrowth of Toyota's Five Continents Drive, the multiyear, worldwide test drive that wrapped up this year. Now that the five continents are conquered, people in the company are calling the gray, lifeless orb circling the Earth the "sixth continent"—albeit one without roads, bombarded by radiation and completely hostile to human survival.
"We have now found a new 'road,' which is the moon. And for this new road, we will be able to make a new vehicle," said Takao Sato, project head of Toyota's Lunar Exploration Mobility Works and a former interior design engineer who worked on the Prius hybrid. "This is a dream for us."
The Lunar Cruiser is pushing Toyota's technology and know-how to the limits.
It also will be the most costly Toyota ever built. Sato said it is too early to even think about estimates, but he joked that this much is true: It will be way more expensive than any Bentley.
While Tesla CEO Elon Musk used his rocket company SpaceX to launch a Roadster into orbit around the sun, Toyota might be the first manufacturer to have a wheeled vehicle for humans on the surface of another heavenly body since General Motors worked on the first moon buggies.
Apollo to Artemis
Toyota is proposing its rover for an international moon mission led by NASA and joined by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and other groups. Toyota floated the idea of building the mission's lunar rover last year.
The Lunar Cruiser would be the size of two microbuses and powered by a hydrogen fuel cell system. A retractable solar panel would help generate electricity for on-board use.
Unlike the open-top buggies used under the Apollo missions of the 1970s, Toyota's rover will have an enclosed cabin. The pressurized compartment—complete with sleeping and toilet space—allows travelers to take off their spacesuits. It is designed for two astronauts but can fit four in an emergency.