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2015 Hydrogen Car Versus Gas Guzzlers

November, 2013


All of the major automakers, including General Motors Co. and Daimler, have been working on hydrogen power for decades. But the prospects of fuel cell cars becoming a commercial product have never been very real until recently.

Skeptics say hydrogen-fueling stations are even more expensive to build than recharging stations for electric cars, partly because electricity is almost everywhere and new and safe ways for producing, storing and transferring hydrogen as fuel will be needed.

Toyota is promising a mass-produced fuel cell car by 2015 in the latest ambitious push to go green by an industry long skeptical about the super-clean technology that runs on hydrogen.

Satoshi Ogiso, the Toyota Motor Corp. executive in charge of fuel cells, said the vehicle is not just for leasing to officials and celebrities but will be an everyday car for ordinary consumers, widely available at dealers.

"Development is going very smoothly," he told The Associated Press on the sidelines of the Tokyo Motor Show. The car will go on sale in Japan in 2015 and within a year later in Europe and U.S.

Toyota's fuel cell car is on display as a "concept" model called FCV at the biannual show, where alternative fuel is grabbing the spotlight. The exhibition, drawing 32 automakers to Tokyo Big Sight convention hall, previewed to the media Wednesday. It opens to the public Saturday, and runs through Dec. 1.

The FCV looks ready to hit the streets, not all that different in exterior design from the Prius gas-electric hybrid, and in contrast to the other fun but outlandishly bizarre models at the show. What's making the once space-age experiment more credible is the price that Toyota is promising: somewhere between 5 million yen ($50,000) and 10 million yen ($100,000), and as close to the lower figure as possible, Ogiso said.


Korean rival Hyundai Motor Co. said earlier this week it will start selling a Tucson SUV powered by a fuel cell next year, which if realized will be the first mass-market arrival of the technology.

Honda Motor Co., Japan's No. 3 automaker, which has leased a fuel cell car since 2005, is scheduled to take the wraps off a next-generation version at the Los Angeles Auto Show later this week. Honda says the new system will be a big improvement from its predecessor.

The Japanese government, as well as the U.S. and parts of Europe, are getting serious in investing in hydrogen fueling-station infrastructure, which is a must before fuel cells can become practical.


Carlos Ghosn, the chief executive of Nissan Motor Co., says that running out of juice while driving is hardly a problem for standard gas cars because all you have to do is find a nearby gas station. It won't be so easy for fuel cell cars. As a Japanese automaker, he's banking on a different kind of zero-emissions technology - electric vehicles. For fuel cell cars, he says, "Having a prototype is easy. The challenge is mass-marketing." In his opinion, mass-market fuel cell cars will not be a viable option before 2020.

Nissan's Leaf is the bestselling mass-produced pure electric vehicle, with cumulative sales totalling more than 83,000 around the world since going on sale three years ago. But limited cruise range on a single charge -- 228 kilometres in Japan, and 117 kilometres in the U.S. -- has been an obstacle. The lack of recharging stations has been another.


Hybrids, which switch back and forth between gasoline and electricity, and recharge as they move, have become more widespread, selling in the millions, largely because they have eliminated the fear of running out of juice.

Mitsubishi Motors Corp. General Manager Nobuo Momose believes the hybrid and plug-in are more realistic options. Nissan stuck to its EV vision at the auto show, unveiling a rocket-like three-seat sportscar concept called BladeGlider. "We have no plans for a fuel cell at the moment," he said.


The cost for a fuel cell car will range from $50,000 to $100,000.

Koichiro Imoto, an auto expert writes for Japanese magazines is optimistic about the future of fuel cell cars. "The big difference is that fuel cells are going to feel more like a regular car, except it's so quiet. It can be fueled in a short time, just like a gas car, and it's going to have a longer range than an electric car," he said.

Imoto believes automakers will compete in exterior design and other new areas with fuel cells, taking a departure from the past, when they competed in horsepower, driving feel and engine sound. The fuel cell stack, which powers the vehicle by turning hydrogen fuel and oxygen in the air into water, works as the "heart" of the vehicle, said Ogiso.

With more players throwing their hats into the ring, which automaker emerges the winner in fuel cells is still unclear.

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