As a reminder that neither of these technologies will make much of an impact any time soon, Renault Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn and Tesla Motors Elon Musk have both been loud advocates for battery-powered vehicles, and recently were loud also in bad-mouthing the hydrogen fuel cell powered cars.
By 2030, internal combustion engines, with a little bit of help from hybrids and plug-in hybrids, will still vastly outnumber battery-only power or fuel cells.
Ghosn, leader of the French-Japanese alliance, famously said 10 per cent of all global car sales would be battery-only by 2020. Not many experts buy that now as buyers see battery cars as hugely expensive and with limited and unpredictable range. Tesla Motors’ Model S battery-only car has been very successful, but on a small scale and doubts remain about its range as the car is exported to Europe and exposed to Germany’s high-speed roads.
Ghosn said any move to mass market fuel cell vehicles would be hampered by the lack of refueling infrastructure, and although this rings true, it also coincided with news Hyundai of Korea, and Honda and Toyota of Japan, have ambitious and imminent plans for hydrogen powered cars. Musk, using more colorful language to diss fuel cells, said they only made sense in rockets.
For example though, Toyota’s new FCV Concept fuel cell car, unveiled at the Tokyo show last month, is a four-seat sedan and will take passengers at least 300 miles on a tank of hydrogen. This range claim and ease of refueling is a powerful advantage over battery-only cars.
“If the (fuel cell) technology can eventually be mastered in terms of cost, quality, reliability and perhaps most crucial, with cars that are affordable to the public at large, today’s conventional battery powered cars could be destined to go the same way as the dinosaurs,” said Automotive Industry Data editor Peter Schmidt said. “The future probably is going to be electric, but probably not a battery-powered one,” Schmidt said.
All the major car manufacturers are investing mammoth sums to replace the internal combustion engine. Companies like BMW though, which have spent big on batteries, are also hedging their bets in alliances to advance fuel cells too. BMW is partnering with Toyota. Honda, which already has a fuel cell car on trial in California, the FCX Clarity, is partnered with GM. Ford is in league with Mercedes, Nissan, and Renault.
LMC Automotive predicts that 0.1 % of global car sales will be fuel cell-powered by 2023. That’s equivalent to 125,000 sales. Frost and Sullivan sees 250,000 fuel cell sales by 2023 – 2024. Some see battery-only cars appealing to city car buyers while fuel cells will be used for longer trips and be dominated by luxury manufacturers.