Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles haven’t seen a whole lot of the limelight in recent times, in part because the technology is wildly expensive, not only for the infrastructure, but the vehicles themselves.
Still, imagine a vehicle that has zero emissions [tailpipe anyway] like an electric vehicle, but can refuel in about the same amount of time as a conventional vehicle. Hydrogen fuel cell technology actually isn’t that new [it’s been around since at least the 1930s], so why aren’t we all driving around in zero-emissions vehicles like the Toyota FCV-R? The supporting technology is all there, Toyota’s nickel-metal hydride [NiMH] rechargeable battery technology is now in over five million hybrid vehicles worldwide and so is the hybrid control system. The only problem now is cost.
Estimates for the production of a single hydrogen fuel cell vehicle ran as high as $1 million each up until just recently. One problem is cost of materials that go into the fuel cell. Platinum is necessary to keep the fuel cell from corroding internally, but platinum is also somewhat more expensive than gold. Toyota has managed to reduce the amount of platinum in the fuel cell to about 30g, just over $1,600 worth and is looking to reduce this even further.
Production costs have steadily dropped and currently run about $100,000 per vehicle, but if Toyota wants to sell them even with no profit, who would spend $100,000 on a small family sedan? Yoshihiko Masuda, managing director for Toyota advanced automobiles, said “we don’t want to lose money with introduction of the vehicle. Production cost should be covered within the price of the vehicle.” Even if the price were somewhat more reasonable at $50,000, Masuda went on to explain the market would be “small, but with some support.” With just a few hydrogen fueling stations in the world, such a market has a lot work on, and if Toyota plans to sell even a $50,000 hydrogen fuel cell vehicle by 2015, there’s a lot of work to be done to reduce production costs.