Toyota Unveils New Hydrogen Car… But Can It Survive??

fcv2Yesterday at the AT&T Ball Park in San Francisco, Toyota rolled out their vision for the future: the 2015 Fuel Cell Vehicle (FCV).  For the Japanese automaker, it took seven long years of research and development to produce the luxury sedan that mixes hydrogen gas and oxygen in a fuel cell stack to generate power.

Still, it isn’t 100% complete.

“We aren’t quite ready to show off the interior yet, but it’s safe to say that it’ll be very spacious with ample trunk room,” said Jana Hartline, the company’s environmental communications manager.

As far as how the vehicle works… “The (electricity-generating) hydrogen fuel cell sits under the front seats, and the hydrogen gas tanks are under the back wheel well. It’s been optimized for comfort.”

In addition to these features, the car’s front end is also equipped with massive gills that help to cool the fuel cell, while the back side of the vehicle features a number of curves “that are meant to recall waves, hinting at the fact that the only thing coming out of the tailpipe is H2O.”

The car certainly sounds great and is set to hit dealers by the middle of next year, but the real question is: does anybody care about it?

Well, not really.

With the recent surge in popularity and excitement over electric cars, these hydrogen powered vehicles seem to be in a sort of no man’s land. Undoubtedly, much of this has to do with its expensive nature.

Joe Romm, the author of The Hype About Hydrogen, writes, “When I helped oversee the hydrogen and fuel cell and alternative vehicle programs at the Energy Departments Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy in the 1990s, I was a big supporter of hydrogen and transportation fuel cell vehicle (FCV) programs, helping to boost the funding for those programs substantially.”

fcv3“But the FCV research did not pan out as expected — some key technologies proved impractical and others remained stubbornly expensive.”

Currently, expert analysts estimate that re-filling a hydrogen powered car like the Toyota FCV would cost around $50 to $60. That’s expensive! Actually, it’s more expensive than many gasoline vehicles!

Even more disparaging, though, is the way that hydrogen vehicles line up against their electric counterparts. Over the last few years, Tesla has been establishing re-charging stations across the country that would provide Tesla drivers with FREE charges. How could a hydrogen vehicle ever compete with that?

Well, companies like Toyota are currently working on a similar network of stations. In fact, the California Energy Commission recently pledged $200 million to get some 48 hydrogen refueling stations established in the Southern California area.

But even with that, the hydrogen car movement is lagging far behind. Jana Hartline, however, still sees hope, saying, “We don’t see this as a one-thing-fits-all-thing. Rather it’s whatever really suits a person’s driving needs. Electric cars are great, but that also doesn’t scale well when it comes to large vehicles like buses, which do work on hydrogen fuel cells.”

But what do you think? Is this false hope? Or do hydrogen powered cars actually have a chance to survive in today’s ultra-competitive environment?

Personally, I wouldn’t put my money on it.

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