Toyota has joined the space race, revealing a concept lunar rover designed to drive 6,000 miles over the surface of the moon with astronauts inside.
The manufacturer has teamed up with Japanese space agency JAXA to design a huge four metres tall vehicle powered by fuel cells and bristling with communications equipment.
The car can accommodate up to four passengers in its 13-square metre living quarters.
The development is the latest indication of car manufacturers’ increasing ambitions beyond the internal combustion engine. Electric vehicles, self-driving cars and now space vehicles are on their agenda.
Should the concept vehicle make it into production, it will be six metres long and five metres wide as well as towering four metres high.
This is on a vastly bigger scale than the Apollo lunar roving vehicles – or ‘moon buggies’ – used in the early 1970s (and which remain on the moon).
Toyota isn’t getting in bed with Japan’s national space agency purely for the goodness of mankind.
The manufacturer hopes to learn data and techniques related to battery, solar and fuel cell technology and translate this into more earthly uses as well.
However, the partnership with JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) means the Toyota moon rover has a much higher chance of actually being built than if Toyota had created it off its own bat.
The project envisions that astronauts – normally two, but up to four in emergencies - will live in the vehicle for fixed periods without wearing space suits, and also that it can be driven both autonomously and by a human.
JAXA Vice President Koichi Wakata said of the project: “Manned, pressurized rovers will be an important element supporting human lunar exploration, which we envision will take place in the 2030s. We aim at launching such a rover into space in 2029.
"Lunar gravity is one-sixth of that on Earth. Meanwhile, the moon has a complex terrain with craters, cliffs, and hills. Moreover, it is exposed to radiation and temperature conditions that are much harsher than those on Earth, as well as an ultra-high vacuum environment.
“For wide-ranging human exploration of the moon, a pressurized rover that can travel more than 10,000 km in such environments is a necessity. Toyota's 'space mobility' concept meets such mission requirements.
"International space exploration is a challenge to conquer the unknown. To take up such a challenge, we believe it is important to gather our country's technological capabilities and engage as 'Team Japan'.
“Through our collaboration with Toyota as the starting point, we can further expand the resources of 'Team Japan' in the continued pursuit of international space exploration."
Executive Vice President of Toyota Motor Corporation Shigeki Terashi said: "Toyota believes that achieving a sustainable mobility society on Earth will involve the coexistence and widespread use of electrified vehicles, such as hybrid electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, battery electric vehicles, and fuel cell electric vehicles.
"Contributing to Earth's environment cannot be achieved without the widespread use of electrified vehicles.
“As a full-line manufacturer of electrified vehicles, and aiming for the widespread use of such vehicles, Toyota―going beyond only making complete vehicles―wants to provide electrification to its customers in various forms, such as through systems and technologies.
"Our joint studies with JAXA are a part of this effort. Being allowed to be a member of 'Team Japan', we would like to take up the challenge of space."