Hydrogen Engine Buggy Places 4th in Class at Dakar 2024! What is the future that HySE seeks to create? (Part 1)


The HySE technical research association, comprising four Japanese motorcycle manufacturers, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, and Toyota, entered a hydrogen-powered vehicle in Dakar 2024. What significance did it hold?

HySE (Hydrogen Small mobility & Engine technology) is a technical research association set up by six companies: four motorcycle manufacturers—Kawasaki Motors, Ltd. (Kawasaki Motors), Suzuki Motor Corporation (Suzuki), Honda Motor Co., Ltd. (Honda), and Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd. (Yamaha Motor)—Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd. (Kawasaki Heavy Industries), and Toyota Motor Corporation.

The association is seeking to establish the basic technology for hydrogen-powered motorcycles and small mobilities as part of the path toward a carbon-neutral society.

As one step on that path, the association entered its hydrogen-powered buggy HySE-X1 in the Dakar 2024, held January 5-19 in Saudi Arabia. The buggy took fourth in its class.

That was the Mission 1000 class, a category which debuted in 2024 as an open laboratory for developing next-generation powertrains, including hydrogen-powered engines, BEVs, hybrid cars fueled by biofuels, and other efforts toward carbon neutrality.

As the name implies, it is a rally covering about 100 kilometers a day for ten days, totaling 1000 kilometers overall. The distance is shorter than standard categories but still requires racing through harsh conditions. With terrain ranging from desert to swampland and mountains, Dakar has earned a name as the toughest motor race in the world. Therefore, having made it to the final day is a major achievement for HySE.

Working Across Corporate Borders

HySE presented its work at the 51st Tokyo Motorcycle Show, held March 22-24, with the HySE-X1 on display. Project members, including the director, joined at the venue.


"The initial kickoff was in July 2021, at the fourth round of the Super Taikyu series at Autopolis (Oita Prefecture)," says HySE Vice-chair Yoshimoto Matsuda of Kawasaki Motors.

Vice Chairman Yoshimoto Matsuda

Morizo (Chairman Akio Toyoda) was there racing the hydrogen-powered Corolla in Super Taikyu, and President Yasuhiko Hashimoto of Kawasaki Heavy Industries, which is engaged in producing, transporting, storing, and using hydrogen, joined him at a press conference there. During the conference, they underlined the importance of joining hands to help achieve a hydrogen-powered society.

It inspired in us a powerful desire to give shape to that momentum, as well. Yamaha Motor President and CEO Yoshihiro Hidaka, who is also a vice chairman of JAMA (Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association), supported us and reached out to Suzuki and Honda.

That is how we put together the six-company coalition that preceded HySE. Achieving a carbon-neutral society is such a great cause that we were able to unite across corporate borders like that.

The six-company coalition was born in September 2021. The members were the same four motorcycle makers, along with Denso and Toyota.

The six-company coalition immediately began work on creating a hydrogen-powered buggy prototype based on the 998cc inline four-cylinder supercharged motorcycle engine used in Kawasaki's Ninja H2.

In September 2022, they carried out a demo run at the fifth round of the Super Taikyu series at Mobility Resort Motegi.

Kawasaki Heavy Industries Representative Director, President and Chief Executive Officer Yasuhiko Hashimoto (left) and Morizo (right) test driving the hydrogen-powered engine buggy prototype. Picture courtesy of Kawasaki Motors.
Picture courtesy of Kawasaki Motors.

Vice Chairman Yoshimoto Matsuda

Morizo tested the buggy and said, “You've made a good car. Let's take it out even more.”

(Current Toyota CEO) Koji Sato, who was president of GAZOO Racing at the time, also told us, “The Dakar Rally sounds good!”

With all of that, we felt the momentum toward trying out the Dakar Rally.

Racing through the desert in a hydrogen-powered vehicle... The mere thought feels epic, doesn't it? It was a great motivator for us.

Carrying the internal combustion engine into the future

HySE received approval from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and was officially founded in May 2023. Chairman Kenji Komatsu of Yamaha Motor explains the significance.

Chairman Kenji Komatsu

Internal combustion engine technology is an area where Japan leads the world.

As powertrain electrification has progressed in recent years, particularly in Europe and China, there has been a fear that the internal combustion engine could be lost.

However, we have the power to preserve the incredible technology through using hydrogen as a fuel without generating CO2.

By crossing corporate walls and concentrating Japanese technologies, we can carry the internal combustion engine into the future. I believe this carries enormous significance for Japan's industry.

Director Tsuyoshi Tanaka of Suzuki says that hydrogen-powered engines are one essential solution for the multi-pathway approach.

Director Tsuyoshi Tanaka

We're talking about a future product here, but I truly want to commercialize the hydrogen-powered engine so that it can be one more option in creating a carbon-neutral society.

To do that, we have pooled our strengths to build the basic technology, and every company can take that back and work off one another to commercialize it.

The six companies are working together around us motorcycle makers, but the core ideal is close to that of a venture company. I think we can make speedy progress in our research through a cycle of failure and growth.

Fellow Director Masashi Furuya of Honda also emphasized the importance of the multi-pathway approach.

Director Masashi Furuya

We offer products across a great number of regions to a diverse group of customers. Each country and region has its own different energy circumstances.

I believe it is our duty to offer those customers around the world all kinds of possibilities.

Internal combustion engines are an effective strategy because small mobility, including motorcycles, has limited space.

I think it's vital that HySE progresses in fundamental research and connects it to the future potential of internal combustion.

Dakar is another venue for “making ever-better cars based on motorsports.”

Within HySE, consideration of joining Dakar 2024 began directly after its founding, and it was officially decided in September 2023.

The meaning of that is expressed in Morizo's rallying cry of “making ever-better cars based on motorsports.”

Director Masashi Furuya

A goal in joining the harsh Dakar Rally in the early stages was to reveal issues with the hydrogen-powered engine and help accelerate fundamental research.

The tough experiences of the engineers and staff on the scene likely offered many lessons, as well. I think that the aspect of “training people” is also another important meaning of joining.

Vice Chairman Yoshimoto Matsuda

We announced our participation in Dakar 2024 in September 2023. We had a few months to prepare before the event kicked off on January 5th, 2024.

Setting a somewhat unreasonable goal can actually help guide research and development and make it more agile. I feel that joining the Dakar 2024 was a good idea for HySE.

Chairman Kenji Komatsu

The goals of showing off HySE's work on the international stage of the Dakar Rally were to help the world know more about the possibilities of hydrogen-powered engines and build partnerships by winning the understanding of other companies.

From left: Director Kenji Komatsu of Yamaha Motor, Vice-chair Yoshimoto Matsuda of Kawasaki Motors, Director Tsuyoshi Tanaka of Suzuki, and Director Masashi Furuya of Honda.

When it comes to building partnerships, HySE's work has already earned shared enthusiasm from the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), which supported the Dakar 2024 challenge.

What reason does NEDO, a national research institute that promotes the development of technologies necessary to achieve a sustainable society, have to support HySE? Hidenori Saka, director of the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Technology Office, explains.

Hidenori Saka, Director, Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Technology Office Smart Community and Energy Systems Department

Hydrogen is an essential energy source in achieving the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.

We felt that HySE's Dakar Rally project was an ideal way to increase public awareness of hydrogen.

Hydrogen has already been used in fuel cells or gas turbines, but the opportunity of expanding through the use of hydrogen-powered engines in mobility... I felt there was enormous potential there.

Above all, they'll be running a hydrogen-powered vehicle with the rumble of its engine on the highly entertaining stage of the Dakar Rally.

We identified with the goal of spreading hydrogen as an energy source throughout society using exciting technology and gave our support.

Now, with the Dakar 2024 over, did the project offer any results?

All four directors agreed. Completing the rally produced far more data than expected, and they became more confident that the hydrogen-powered engine could be fully competent in such a tough race.

The response in Dakar was also greater than imagined, and HySE is already getting offers and inquiries from other teams.

In Part 2, we speak to the project team's leaders and engineers about the feverish preparations, work behind the scenes at the race, and issues they discovered. Stay tuned to find out what they have to say.