Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

Welcome to 2018!

We wish all of you a very Happy New Year! We hope 2017 was as good for you as it was for us here at Clean Fleet Report. We published more articles than in any previous year, covered breaking news of new models and tested cars of all shapes and sizes. The team of John Faulkner, Larry Hall, Steve Schaefer and Nick Zatopa dug deep and brought you up close to all of the important stories this year.

It’s a great time to be focused on green cars as the number of EVs, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and high-mileage gas and diesel vehicles continues to climb. And autonomous technology and connected vehicles promise to become a part of our daily lives. This has been a great year for us, but we think 2018 promises to be even more exciting. Glad to have you along for the ride.

Look for some surprises in January!

Michael Coates

Editor & Publisher

Clean Fleet Report

Tesla Model 3

The Mode 3 is just one of the stories we’ll be covering in 2018

News: San Ramon’s New Hydrogen Station Is Open for Business

News: San Ramon’s New Hydrogen Station Is Open for Business

Infrastructure Grows as More Fuel Cell Cars Hit the Streets

Along with plug-in electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel cell cars have a major part to play in the movement away from the internal combustion engine. The latest fuel cell cars look and perform just like “regular cars,” and you can drive one home today from a local Toyota, Honda or Hyundai dealership “if.” The “if” is the impediment to mass adoption because of the still fledgling hydrogen fueling infrastructure.

Hydrogen station

“Gassing” up with hydrogen is becoming easier

To help remedy that situation, the State of California is building 100 hydrogen fuel stations. As part of that effort, San Ramon (on the eastern side of the San Francisco Bay) now hosts station #29. It’s an attractive and spacious new facility that just opened in the sprawling Bishop Ranch industrial park, which just happens to be the headquarters of oil giant Chevron. The land for the station is leased from Toyota for $1 a year (the new station borders on Toyota’s Northern California zone office). It’s very convenient for refueling the manufacturer’s Mirai hybrid sedans, although any hydrogen-powered car is welcome.

Station #29 is one of seven stations slated for the San Francisco Bay Area in the next year (or two, the process of commissioning and building a station is long and not always predictable). Ross Koble, Toyota’s Advanced Technology PR representative, said that in the two years the Mirai has been on the road, Toyota (which pays for the fuel for leased or purchased cars, has noticed that owners appear to be extending the time between fill-ups. He thought that indicated a learning curve as owners became more comfortable with fuel cell technology and the refueling infrastructure, reducing the fear of running out of fuel.  

The Ribbon Is Cut

I attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony, where a group of the people responsible for bringing this new community asset to San Ramon each spoke to an appreciative crowd.

Hydrogen station

The hydrogen station has the look and feel of the familiar gas station

We first heard from Bill Elrick, executive director of the California Fuel Cell Partnership, an industry/government collaboration that has worked since 1999 to expand the market for fuel cell hydrogen-powered vehicles. Elrick touted the multiple benefits of the station—environmental, economic and for energy independence. He thanked the California Air Resources Board (CARB), which has been instrumental in promoting the market for fuel cell vehicles with cash incentives on the vehicles and a regulation that encourages automakers to produce zero emission vehicles like fuel cells.

Michael Beckman, VP/Head – Key Customers & Hydrogen Fueling at Linde, the folks whose technology powers the station, thanked the assembled city and county representatives for getting the job done. “It’s tough to build in California,” Beckman said, but he was very happy with the outcome. Linde’s Ionic Compression technology is found in many applications, including the sprawling A/C Transit yard in Emeryville, which fuels 13 fuel cell buses, and a large facility at the BMW factory in Spartanburg, South Carolina. They also built the public hydrogen station in West Sacramento.

The Politicians

It’s not a community ribbon-cutting without the appropriate dignitaries, so San Ramon Mayor Bill Clarkson spoke briefly. Democratic State Senator Steve Glaser, who represents California’s 7th Senate District, praised the state’s aggressive goals and provision of incentives for alternate fuels. Republican Assemblymember Catharine Baker, who represents the 16th California Assembly District, noted the bipartisan agreement in support of this technology as it moves into cities and towns around the state.

Candace Anderson, Contra Costa County District 2 supervisor, hailed the public/private partnership that has made the air in California cleaner today. She presented a certificate of appreciation for the building of Station #29. I spoke privately with San Ramon Assistant City Manager Eric Figueroa, who was pleased to have the state-of-the-art facility in his community.

The Cars

Representing the auto industry, Dawn Mercer, National Manager, Advanced Technology Vehicles Marketing, stepped up to the microphone. She explained that Toyota has been working on fuel cells for 20 years, since the days of the first Prius, and was sanguine about the growth of fuel cell vehicles. About 2,100 Toyota Mirai fuel cell cars are tooling around California (60 percent are in the Los Angeles area, where the infrastructure is more developed than in the north) already, compared to 10 million hybrids on roads all over the world. The fuel cells are sold by only eight Toyota dealers, four in the south and four in the north.

Fuel-cell vehicles run on electricity, but unlike a plug-in electric car, which is charged from an electric source, they generate the electricity in the vehicle itself. The process involves combining the hydrogen fuel with oxygen, creating energy, with the sole byproduct being H2O—water. A Toyota Mirai can get around 312 miles on a tankful of hydrogen, and it only takes a few minutes to fill it. This replicates the experience most drivers are accustomed to at their local gas station.

Hydrogen station

The Hyundai Tucson SUV is one of three fuel cell EVs on the market

The issue for early adopter hydrogen car owners has been finding a station, so placing a facility in the heart of this prosperous area is a good way to boost sales of the three hydrogen cars currently available: the Toyota Mirai and Honda Clarity midsize sedans and the Hyundai Tucson compact crossover.

Chris Weeks, director of transportation for Bishop Ranch, told Clean Fleet Report he felt San Ramon was a great spot for station #29. “There’s plenty of disposable income here, people have long commutes, and the types of people who live and work around here appreciate the new technology,” he said. Weeks drives a fuel cell Hyundai Tucson.

The sales manager for one of the eight Toyota dealers selling the Mirai, Russ Mobley, told Clean Fleet Report that some of his customers are converts from Tesla’s electric cars—some trading in their Model S and others abandoning the long line for the just-introduced Model 3 to move to an advanced technology they can drive home now. He also added that the availability of the HOV-lane sticker, which allows a Mirai driver to use the carpool lane while driving solo, is a major motivator.

Toyota executives noted that they are finding Mirai owners forming ad hoc affinity groups, sharing their experiences on social media.

The Station Process

John Kato, deputy director of the California Energy Commission, also spoke to the crowd. The California Energy Commission is tasked by state law with developing and deploying alternative and renewable fuels and advanced transportation technologies to help meet California’s goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and petroleum dependence in the transportation sector. The Energy Commission is responsible for building California’s network of 100 hydrogen stations; so far, they have funded 60 stations, of which 31 are currently open.

Hydrogen station

Some FCEVs stand out more than others

Later, Kato and I chatted about the other area of hydrogen technology that needs development. Although there are many ways to produce hydrogen fuel, it is an energy intensive process today, making it less sustainable. Kato is hopeful that the use of renewable energy generated from biomethane from waste treatment and landfills will help lead to more clean hydrogen production in California soon.

The new station’s pump looks much like a modern gas dispensing unit, with a slot to pay and a small keypad. It also features a screen with a short video explaining how to use the station. Regular patrons will presumably skip that part, but it’s good to learn to use the station properly. It’s a simple process.

The happy crowd had a chance to test drive hydrogen vehicles after the presentation, although some attendees were already proud owners. The presence of hydrogen station #29 should help more people in the Bay Area make the decision to go green with hydrogen.

Note: Michael Coates contributed to this article.

Related Stories You Might Enjoy:

Road Test: 2017 Toyota Mirai

News: 2016 Toyota Mirai Hits the Market

First Drive: 2016 Toyota Mirai

First Drive: 2017 Honda Clarity

News: Honda Introduces Production Clarity Fuel Cell

News: 2014 LA Auto Show: A Hydrogen Milestone

Why We Don’t Publish Projections of Future EV Sales

Why We Don’t Publish Projections of Future EV Sales

The Danger of the Promise of the Imagined Future
Automobile sales are difficult to predict, even in the aggregate, where you’re guesstimating total sales for the year. When you drill down to a more volatile portion of the market like EV sales, it gets even less reliable. This is why at Clean Fleet Report we stay away from predictions, especially those several years out. Here’s a good example of why we follow this policy and will continue to focus our reporting on what’s happening right now, not in the unpredictable future.

Ceres and Citi Investment Research & Analysis took a look at electric vehicle sales back in March of 2011 and boldly predicted where the market would be in four years. That year was the first for electric cars — the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt — were just appearing, but other companies were expected to join in soon (Tesla had just launched its electric Roadster and Fisker’s plug-in hybrid was expected soon). Well, here we are four years later. Let’s see how the numbers stack up.

First a bit about who “they” are and what they were predicting. Citi Bank worked with Ceres, an environmental organization; Baum and Associates, auto industry analysts; the Rutgers University School of Planning & Public Policy; and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. They did an overview of the state of the electric vehicle industry and focused on individual company product plans, technology issues and government policies. The goal was to provide investment advice, which should serve as a cautionary tale when you look at how the predictions turned out.

Future EV Sales

The forecast was that more than 100 models would be on the market by this year, which included hybrids as well as plug-in hybrids, full battery electrics and fuel cell vehicles. The inclusion of conventional hybrids is the only thing that saves this report from being completely off the mark, although it did have a good sense of several of the models that would be offered by this year, including the Hyundai Tucson FCEV. Other than that, it’s easier to pick out the misfires that came from believing some the press release of 2011. Among the battery electric cars that were around in 2011 that are no longer a factor in the market:
• Myers Motors (inheritors of the Corbin Sparrow single-seat EV)
• Tesla Roadster (retired after 2,400 units)
• BYD e6 (other than a few demos running around in government fleets)
• Coda sedan (RIP)
• Ford Transit Connect (Azure Dynamics RIP)
• Mini-E (retired in favor of the Active-E and then the i3)

That leaves the survivors—the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Nissan Leaf and Smart Fourtwo.

Smart electric drive in car2go

Smart ED – a survivor

Of the expected EVs, there also have been several no-shows or limited runs, including:
• CT&T NEV (a Korean neighborhood electric vehicle that never happened)
• Infiniti sedan
• Myers Motors DUO
• Peugeot Urban EV*
• Renault Fluence
• Renault Kangoo
• Think City (RIP)
• ZAP Alias
• Audi e-tron (still coming according to Audi)
• Fiat Doblo
• Lexus LF-A
• Ram Pickup
• Renault City Car*
• Renault Urban EV*
• Scion iQ (here and gone)
• Toyota Prius full electric
• Volkswagen E-Up* (possible U.S. model, surplanted by the e-Golf)

To be fair, the asterisked models were labeled Europe only, but not all of them appeared there, either. Finally, Citi had a list of “potential” models, which we’ll cut them some slack for, since they hedged their bets. The no-shows there are mostly small companies that haven’t made it along with a couple majors:
• Green Tech
• Lexus RX
• Nissan sporty car
• Reva NXT
• Subaru R1E
• Volvo C30
• V-Vehicle

Citi had similar issues with the plug-in hybrids and fuel cell vehicles. But they also failed to foresee many of the vehicles now on the market, so one could say it all comes out in the wash. All of this is just to point the difficulty in looking into the future, even just four years down the road, and why we look very skeptically on any such predictions.
Finally, the report also forecasts production volumes and market share. Here’s their take from 2011, followed by the reality at the end of 2014 (ironically also using Baum & Associates data in large part).

Forecast

Type – # of models – Volumes – % of “EV” Market
Hybrid – 57 – 518,200 – 55.2%
Full Electric – 37 – 215,200 – 22.9%
Plug-in Hybrid – 18 – 200,500 – 21.3%
Full Cell – 6 – 5,700 – 0.6%

Dec. 2014 (sales for year)
Hybrid – 45 – 452.152 – 79.2%
Full Electric – 13 – 63,325 – 11.1%
Plug-in Hybrid – 9 – 55,357 – 9.7%
Fuel Cell – 1 – Unknown – 0.0%

The market share story actually played out close to predictions, which may demonstrate that the market for these cars is developing, just at a slower rate than expected or hoped.
The 2011 study predicted Toyota would lead the market, followed by Ford, Nissan, Honda and GM, taking almost 80 percent of the market among five marques. Entering 2015, the race was very

2014,Ford,Fusion,Energi,styling,mpg

Ford’s moved to electrify several models

similar, with Toyota dominating the volume hybrid market (66.8%), followed by Ford at 13.3%, Honda at 6.8%, Hyundai at 6.6%, GM at 3.5% and Nissan at 2.3%. The smaller volume full-electric market has Nissan leading at 41.8%, followed by Tesla 25.6% (2.9% of the overall “electric” market, about what was predicted), BMW 13.6% (1.2% of overall “electric” market, again about what was predicted, Daimler at 9.1% and VW at 3.2%. The plug-in hybrid market has GM leading at 41.6%, Ford at 37.4%, Toyota at 12.7%, BMW at 4.1%, VW at 2.5% and Honda at 1.6%. So the bottom line is the market has lost a couple potential players (Fisker, which was predicted to take 5.5% of the market, and Myers Motors, which was expected to take 1.2% of the market. Instead, because the conventional hybrid market continues to dominate in volume, Toyota has an even larger market share with the rest divided among other major automakers. Other than Tesla’s meager share, no new manufacturers have emerged to take on these new segments.

Forecasts were all over the map, but it is the high-volume models that threw off the projections the most. The Prius actually exceeded expectations, that is, if you count the whole Prius “family.” The Citi forecast showed the Prius at 150,000 units in 2015. The original Liftback sold 122,776 in 2014, while the “V” added 30,762 and the “c” model another 40,570. The Camry Hybrid was pegged at 40,000 units and it did come in just a shade under that number in 2014.

Chevy-Volt-plugin-electric

The Volt – selling, but not in the expected numbers

Among full electrics, the Nissan Leaf was expected to sell 90,000 units, but in 2014 it sold only 30,200. The other expected volume electric was the Tesla Model S, which didn’t hit the 22,500 number that was projected (delivering only 16,550 in the U.S.). Plug-in models were the furthest off, with the Volt selling 18,805 when it was forecast to sell 55,000; the Prius Plug-In was supposed to hit 55,000 units in 2015, but in reality in 2014 Toyota only sold 13,264; finally, the Fisker Nina (40,000 units) never made it off the drawing board before the company imploded. Similarly, the report projected Honda’s fuel cell car to sell 3,500 units; it won’t be introduced to the market until 2016 although some Hyundai’s are on sale now and will soon be joined by the Toyota Mirai FCEV.

One of the assumptions that drove the high projections was a belief that 2015 oil prices would be more than $100 a barrel, while they now hover at half that. According to the scenario they reference in the report, that difference could account for up to 300,000 sales. It also assumed a technology and energy efficiency improvement rate that industry has not delivered.

The 2011 report also relied heavily on the belief that government incentives and mandates would drive the electrification of the automotive market. In reality, automakers have found a variety of non-electrified ways to more economically get to the same fuel economy goals—Lightweighting, downsizing gasoline engines and using efficient diesel engines, among other approaches.

Projecting future trends in advanced technology vehicles is not what Clean Fleet Report is all about. We look at what you can buy now—or what’s coming soon, not what is promised beyond the horizon. We also stay away from reporting on “breakthroughs” in technology because of the gap between the early promise in the lab and the reality of mass production. The bottom line is Clean Fleet Report will continue to track what is happening in the market, looking at new vehicles and technologies likely to come to market, but will shy away from any far-reaching looks into the future. As Yogi Berra is quoted as saying, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” Until it gets here, we’ll keep giving you everything you need about the present.

In the meantime, here’s some road tests of vehicles you can buy:

Road Test: 2014 Toyota Prius & Prius Plug-In

Road Test: 2013 Nissan Leaf

Road Test: 2014 Chevy Volt

 

2014 LA Auto Show: A Hydrogen Milestone

2014 LA Auto Show: A Hydrogen Milestone

The Car of the Future Shows Up Again

Last year it was two concept vehicles and one surprise — a fuel cell vehicle going on sale sooner than anyone expected. This year (2014 LA Auto Show) one was one fuel cell is already on sale (albeit in small numbers), two are about to hit the market and two surprise concepts debuted at the show. Add in the buzz about California’s hydrogen-station-building frenzy and the fuel cell zero emission vehicle was back in the news again.

2015,toyota,Mirai,fuel cell,hydrogen, zero emission vehicle

Toyota throws down a stylish fuel cell

For years derided as the future technology that was always 20 years in the future, hydrogen fuel cells appear to be making a serious run at becoming a relevant alternative to the internal combustion engine and the 2014 LA Auto Show. Here’s a run-down of the news.

  • Hyundai is celebrating the end of its first calendar year of TucsonFCEV sales. The numbers are still low as even with tens of thousands of web-based “handraisers,” converting that interest into sales is challenging because of the lack of infrastructure. The deal for those close to the few existing stations remains as much of a no-brainer as some of the low-lease EV ones—$499/month for a three-year lease with $2,999 down and all fuel and maintenance included.

    honda,clarity,fuel cell, hydrogen, zero emissions

    There are Honda Clarity fuel cell vehicles already on the road

  • Toyota made a big splash with journalists around the show (though not with a press conference at the show), introducing the production version of its coming Mirai sedan. We first saw the sedan in the flesh a few months ago and recognize what Toyota is up to. As they did with the Prius, the intent is to present a distinctive vehicle that will give owners immediate recognition. The Mirai (“future” in Japanese) is no Camry when it comes to styling, so the early adopters and techies who grab one with be spending a lot of time answering questions about their unique vehicle when it goes on sale in 2015. Pricing was also announced–$57,500, pretty expensive for a Toyota, but the company is matching Hyundai’s $499/month lease deal. Toyota also made it clear that that the next generation’s hydrogen-powered drivetrain (due around 2020) would be between one-third and one-fourth the cost of this one (and as a metric the company told Automotive News the current fuel cell system is one-twentieth the cost of the previous generation vehicle, which first debuted in 2008). Battery prognosticators should take note. The cost reduction curve typically doesn’t accelerate, but slows down over time. Not surprisingly, it’s the 2020 timeframe when Toyota expects to ramp up production from the hundreds planned for the current Mirai to “tens of thousands.”
  • Honda also went outside the LA show, showcasing its production fuel cell sedan to media in Japan the same week (and promising to bring it to Detroit next month). Like Toyota, Honda will present a car unlikely to be mistaken for the new Accord when it hits the market in 2016. It features futuristic styling reminiscent of the original Insight, but in a larger scale. Honda’s launch date was moved back from earlier estimates, but Honda underscored its commitment to make a full-court press on FCEVs, touting progress on the fuel-cell stock that has 60 percent more power packed in a one-third smaller package than the previous generation. Honda also announced it was loaning money to one of the builders of the growing hydrogen station network to expand the number of stations that would be built.
  • Surprising everyone at the show was Audi, which normally talks about its efficient gasoline and diesel powerplants while promising plug-ins in the near future. The company unveiled
    Audi,LA Auto Show,A7,f-tron,fuel cell

    An LA hydrogen surprise from Audi

    an A7 h-tron, a fuel cell model that also had an 8.8-kWh battery pack capable of providing its own launch power prior to the fuel cell kicking in. Audi’s point was that true performance was possible in a fuel cell with the set-up providing power to all four wheels through front and rear electric motors.

  • Volkswagen added its own surprise (of course the parent company of Audi and VW is the same so there was undoubtedly some common technology involved) when it unveiled a hydrogen version of the new Golf Sportwagen. The HyMotion concept borrows its electric motor from the just-introduced e-Golf and uses a lithium-ion battery pack from the Jetta Hybrid. VW’s fielded fuel cell cars before, but they were built on a small SUV platform. The smaller package demonstrates some of the advances in packaging VW has made with the technology.
  • The news thatundergirdsall of the automakers optimism about fuel cell technology, at least in California, is the state’s dedication of $20 million per year to fundthe construction of a 100-station fueling infrastructure during the next decade. Legislation passed and signed by Gov. Brown dedicated that amount as a minimum investment by the state to help jumpstart the construction and running of hydrogen stations in the early years when theremay not be enough vehicles to make the business viable. The state’s Energy Commission has contracts out and expects to have more than 50 stations operating by the end of 2015. One–third of the hydrogen supplied in the stateis mandated to come from renewable sources. Fuel cell car buyers will be eligible forsubstantial financial
    Honda,FCEV,sketch,

    Honda FCEV sketch

    incentives from the state and federal government tax credits. Estimates the state gathered from automakers are that there will be 18,500 FCEVs in California by 2020.

  • A couple weeks after the show Hyundai’s fuel cell “engine” was named to WardsAuto World’s 10 Best Engines of 2015. The propulsion unit was singled out as the editors said for “slipping the most advanced automotive technology imaginable into a roomy family vehicle and making it all very consumer friendly.”

The fuel cell news wasn’t a clarion call, especially among all of the low-volume, high-end models several automakers were touting at the 2014 LA Auto Show, but it was significant for that segment of the green market. One clear signal is that the pricing of fuel cell cars appears to be following the track of battery electrics, where a monthly lease rate becomes the standard for most of cars in the segment. Second to that is the solid commitment from major automakers (so far without the whining about losing money on each car they sell or limiting production to the numbers required to meet California ZEV requirements) appears unchanged. All of the major automakers either have their own fuel cell program or are part of a group of companies pursuing the technology.

Here’s how the companies have paired up to bring fuel cell cars to market by sharing development costs and gain some economies of scale before true mass production.

  • Toyota and BMW are working together.
  • Honda and GM have a working relationship.
  • Daimler, Ford and Nissan have an alliance.
  • VW and Hyundai appear to be going it alone.
  • Of the big guys, Fiat Chrysler may be the odd man out with no announced programs or alliances.
Hyundai,fuel cell,electric car,motor

Hyundai’s head starter-A 10-best engine

Akio Toyoda, Toyota Motor’s president and the latest successor from the auto company’s founding family, told Bloomberg Businessweek that “there’s room for both plug-in electrics and hydrogen cars.” He dismisses doubters: “Fifteen years ago they said the same thing about the Prius. Since, then…we have sold seven million (total hybrids) of them.”

Skepticism about the ultimate success of fuel cells in the market remains, but expect the push forward is going to get stronger in 2015. As John Addison showed in his review of the plug-in models available at the show, a strong “green” undercurrent is flowing in the automotive market. The hydrogen wave appears to be just beginning to crest.

Related stories you might enjoy:

2014 LA Auto Show: Plug-in Hybrids, Best Bet

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars Go On Sale in 2014!

Suddenly, Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars Are Back

 

Toyota is “all in” on fuel cell electric vehicles

Toyota is “all in” on fuel cell electric vehicles

Company Loves Its Hybrids But Likes Hydrogen Better Than Electricity.

The race to provide the car of the future is heating up and it should surprise no one that one of the world’s largest car companies, Toyota, is right in the middle of chase to provide it. For Toyota, that future car is powered by a fuel cell that produces electricity on-board from hydrogen.

Craig Scott, Toyota’s national manager of advanced technologies, brought that message recently to a meeting of the Western Automotive Journalists, a Northern California-based group of auto writers.

toyota,fuel cell,future,craig scott

Scott points to the future

Scott’s message was clear–the car’s are real, they’ll be on sale next year and they will deliver what consumers want in a car while helping the automaker to meet tightening emissions regulations around the globe. Toyota’s fuel cell story is in sync with its competitors Hyundai and Honda, who are also ready to enter the market, as well as other companies that will follow–Daimler/Mercedes, Ford, Nissan, General Motors and BMW. The cars will offer a range comparable to gas models and a similar fill up time (both advantages cited for offering a fuel cell electric car as opposed to a battery electric one). The catch, of course, is where those fill ups will take place. As Scott reported, the state California has dedicated $20 million a year for the next decade to put 100 stations in place, augmenting the meager network of nine that exist right now.

Because fuel cell vehicles have no emissions of either criteria pollutants or greenhouse gases (GHG), they fit California’s quest for zero emission vehicles and help the automaker meet U.S. federal and other countries’ goals for reduced GHGs.

Zoomy Concept Shown

The concept fuel cell FCHV (for Fuel Cell Hybrid Vehicle to remind of Toyota’s bread-and-butter advanced technology) sedan Toyota has been showing was unveiled at the Tokyo Auto Show last year and most recently showed up at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Scott indicated that next year’s production car would use the zoomy styling of the concept, though not all of the details of the show car would make it to the

toyota,fuelcell,future,FCHV

An aggressive alternative fuel

street. Costs of the fuel cell “engine” hardware have dropped significantly in the last few years, Scott said, meaning the cars that go on sale in 2015 may still be more expensive than their petroleum-powered cousins, but they won’t cost automakers the $1 million the prototypes did during the past decade. Costs and prices are expected to drop further as production volumes ramp up in the 2020s and other advances in technology, such as reducing the amount of exotic metals like platinum, come on board.

The advances and volumes are expected to come not just because consumers are expected to snatch up great numbers of fuel cell cars when they get to the market, but because automakers have banded together to share costs and collaborate to move the technology forward. Toyota is working with BMW, Ford, Daimler and Nissan are working together, GM and Honda have formed an alliance while Hyundai is going it alone and Fiat-Chrysler appears to be sitting out this round.

The Market Begins

Although both Honda and Mercedes have been leasing limited number of their fuel cell cars for a couple years, Hyundai will be the first on the retail market with a real push. Michael O’Brien, Hyundai’s vice president of corporate and product planning, told the Governor’s Office Summit on Zero Emission Vehicles (March 7, 2014) that the first load of Tucson FCEVs (Hyundai uses the more conventional Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle

Honda,fuelcell,refueling,future

Future fueling too?

nomenclature) will ship from Korea in 3-4 weeks, arriving in April and going on sale mid-May at four dealerships in Southern California. Hyundai previously announced it would offer a $2,999 down, $499 lease that includes free fuel and maintenance for the three years of the lease. Hyundai’s also going to make the Tucson FCEV available for rent through Enterprise Rent-a-Car.

Scott said Toyota isn’t ready to talk pricing on its fuel cell sedan, but it can be expected to be competitive. We’ve seen the same dynamic at work in the electric car space, where the limited market has driven all the automakers to offer very similar discounted leases. Toyota executives have also said they will approach their fuel cell vehicles with the kind of patience they showed with the Prius hybrid introduction. That technology took almost a decade before it took hold in the market, but Toyota has said they’re in it for the long haul and will be able to continue investing in the technology until the market catches up with it.

Taking a page from the Tesla playbook, Scott also said Toyota is planning to augment any public hydrogen stations with a network of its own, which may be a key way of reassuring new buyers that they will be able to refuel.  In the same vein, Honda recently demonstrated a quick refueling station that reduces the fill time to about three minutes, more than comparable to the time spent with a gas or diesel car.

While Toyota and Honda both showed off concept versions of their upcoming fuel cell cars, Hyundai introduced theirs as a Tucson-based model, virtually indistinguishable from the gas version except for badging. Hyundai corrected that by introducing the Intrado FCEV concept at the Geneva Auto Show.

Expect the drumbeat of fuel cell announcements to continue through the year as automakers gear up for more of the cars appearing on the market. Much of the news will be California-centric, but other centers of fuel cell infrastructure and vehicles can be found in Germany, Japan and Korea with England, Denmark and Singapore also in the mix.

Photos by Michael Coates & the manufacturers

Published March 8, 2014

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Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars Go On Sale In 2014

Cars & Technology of the Future

Suddenly, Hydrogen Cars Are Back