A few automakers have promised hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in the next few years, but Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche says it’s going to be at least a decade.
This is pretty interesting for the CEO of a company who has entered into a partnership with Ford Motor Company and Nissan Motor Company, a three-way collaboration to develop hydrogen fuel cell vehicle technology. Even with one-third the risk and investment, CEO Zetsche says it’s still going to be at least a decade before we see any mass-produced hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
The problem is two-fold. First, there are cost problems, not only in development, which the partnership is supposed to mitigate, but also in production. Hydrogen fuel cells themselves are still a very expensive technology. The only way to get the costs down is to mass-produce, but the only way you can mass-produce is to mass-sell. Who’s going to buy a $100,000 Chrysler 200, even if it’s equipped with space-age, well, information-age technology?
The second problem is refueling. At the moment, there are just ten, all in Southern California, hydrogen refueling stations accessible to the public. According to some reports, hydrogen fueling stations are ten times more expensive than gasoline and diesel refueling stations, and three or four times more expensive than electric vehicle fast-charging stations. Rapidly expanding a network of stations to feed a growing hydrogen fuel cell fleet isn’t going to be easy. Again, who’s going to buy a $100,000 Chrysler 200 that you can’t refuel?
Still, these difficulties haven’t prevented some automakers from making some pretty bold claims regarding their upcoming hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Daimler’s fuel cell vehicle will be in production by 2017, and Toyota’s by 2015, but they were all beaten to the punch by the Hyundai FCX Clarity, albeit in limited numbers. How certain is the future of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles? More importantly, how soon will we get to that future?