They may not be everywhere, but Mercedes-Benz and Honda already have hydrogen fuel cell vehicles roaming California’s sun-drenched streets and freeways. Toyota plans to expand the market with the introduction of the Mirai production model set to hit the United States by 2016 along with investments in hydrogen fueling infrastructure. Not to be outdone, Honda released an updated model of its own fuel cell concept in Japan on November 16 along with an announcement at the Los Angeles Auto Show it would increase the number of fueling stations in the U.S.
Phenomenal range and fast refueling
Fuel-cell vehicles run on electric motors, which make them EVs for all intents and purposes. The difference comes in the power source, which in the case of fuel-cell vehicles would be hydrogen gas tanks that sit inside the vehicle. Using this system, the only emissions are a light water drip from the tailpipe. Hydrogen offers a range of 300 miles that is nearly unparalleled in electric vehicles. Instead of charging a battery, swapping hydrogen tanks gets drivers another 300 miles of range in three-to-five minutes at a fueling station.
While this formula appears to be the holy grail for vehicles in an industry plagued by emissions caps, the current system in place has not come close to battery-powered electric vehicles (or even diesel-powered cars, for that matter), according to a study reported in CleanTechnica. Converting natural gas into usable hydrogen fuel for vehicles involves a very intense process that releases more emissions than other green car choices.
Automakers like Honda, Toyota, and Hyundai (also with a fuel-cell vehicle coming to market in 2014) hope these issues are resolved by the time they hit the mass market, which appears to be 2016. For Honda, the Los Angeles Auto Show was a way to advance its entry while keeping pace with Toyota in production and fueling infrastructure.
Honda’s updated concept
The Honda FCV that debuted at the 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show (then called the “FCEV”) was slightly more futuristic and less practical than the model unveiled in November 2014 in Japan. Aside from the exposed wheels in the new model, Honda is featuring notes from the front fascia of the Accord Hybrid. Compared to the FCX Clarity Honda already has on Southern California roads, the FCV has 60% more power while reducing the stack size of the fuel cells by 33% overall.
Running these car will be impossible without hydrogen stations to deliver the fuel. To that end, Honda announced it will loan $14 million to FirstElement Fuel, according to Green Car Reports. That amount is nearly double what Toyota offered to the hydrogen station provider earlier in 2014.
Volkswagen, the world’s second largest automaker behind Toyota, also unveiled fuel-cell vehicles under its main brand (the VW Golf HyMotion) and its luxury brand (the Audi A7 h-tron) at the Los Angeles Auto Show this week. That gives VW and Audi, which said it has “mastered” the technology, an answer to Mercedes’s car now available in California. BMW, for its part, is betting on battery electric vehicles like the i3 instead of fuel cells.
There is a long race ahead to conquer the green car market, but with emissions caps and environmental consciousness increasing every year, the victor will enjoy tremendous spoils in the future.