Electric vehicles may have the upper hand, for now, but will the hydrogen fuel cell be the last laugh?
Various automaker-CEOs have poo-pooed hydrogen fuel cell technology. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn says “I would be very curious and interested to see competitors who say they are going to mass market the car in 2015. Where is the infrastructure? Who’s going to build it?” while Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk managed to sum it up in just one word. The efficiency and infrastructure problems aren’t easily addressed, but Toyota representatives say their hydrogen fuel cell prototype is “going to change the world.”
Toyota does start from a unique position, having pioneered the hybrid electric vehicle back when the naysayers said it could never sell. Today, the Toyota Prius itself has sold more than five million units worldwide, and the best-selling hybrid vehicles in the world are made by Toyota and Lexus. Clearly, the hybrid electric vehicle has proved far more popular than anticipated. Could the “naysayers” be wrong about the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, as well?
Toyota senior vice-president for automotive operations Bob Carter called out the “naysayers” by name, including Elon Musk, Carlos Ghosn, and Jonathan Browning (of Volkswagen). At the presentation of Toyota’s hydrogen fuel cell vehicle prototype at the Detroit Auto Show, he said, “Personally I don’t really care what Elon and Carlos and Jonathan have to say about fuel cells. It’s very reminiscent of 1998, 1999 when we first introduced the Prius.”
Carter suggests that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will be just as clean to run as electric vehicles, producing zero emissions and have that fun-to-drive electric motor torque. At the same time, you can refuel a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle in minutes, just like a conventional vehicle, the best of both worlds. I’m cool with all that, but I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around how few hydrogen refueling stations there are out there. Maybe Toyota’s got some plan they’re keeping close to the chest, something like the Tesla Supercharger network?
Image © Toyota