Here’s What It Takes To Build Cars That Run On The Fuel Of The Future

Like it or not, electric cars are the future. But to truly catch on, they have to be as good as, if not better than, the current gas-driven ones. And if somehow automakers can make the ever-elusive hydrogen fuel cells catch on, we’d be on the cusp of a permanent electric revolution. Jackie Birdsall is one of the engineers working to make this happen, and this is how she got there.

[Welcome to What It Takes, a column devoted to highlighting all of the kickass women in the car industry. Know someone with an awesome story to tell? Email me at kristen@jalopnik.com!]

Jackie is a senior engineer at Toyota in the fuel cell hybrid vehicle group. She’s from California, but currently, she is on assignment in Japan. She’s been there for 13 months and will return to the U.S. in June. She is also without a car right now, which I’m sure is painful.

Jackie is working on creating hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and buses to support the crowds who will come to Japan for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Like Honda and BMW, Toyota has invested heavily in hydrogen fuel cells, and is now looking to further expand that portfolio. Indeed, it’s already started testing a hydrogen fuel cell tractor-trailer in Long Beach called Project Portal.

Jackie provided some insight on how hydrogen fuel cell cars are getting better and better, and what still needs to get done in order for them to truly take off. And she had a lot to say on why we just don’t see enough women engineers in the automotive space.

(Note: this conversation has been edited for grammar, brevity and flow purposes.)


Kristen: What got you into cars to begin with?

Jackie: It wasn’t just one event. I kind of found myself with a group of people who really enjoyed working on vehicles. Then I got into auto shop at my high school and I started working at Pep Boys. It all just kind of went from there. I just always had this love affair with everything in the automotive industry.

Kristen: It sounds like you’re very hands-on with your…

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