With three different automakers announcing production plans for new fuel-cell vehicles at the L.A. Auto Show, hydrogen power is back in the headlines. Yet not everyone is convinced.
With only a handful of fueling stations yet available – and plenty of questions left about how to even produce hydrogen efficiently — some skeptics argue that fuel cell technology remains, as the old adage goes, “the fuel of the future and always will be.” That is even with Honda’s global autos chief Tetsuo Iwamura calling the technology the “ultimate” solution in the search for clean mobility.
Among the most preeminent of the many skeptics is Elon Musk, the CEO of electric vehicle maker Tesla Motors, who recently asserted there is “no way” hydrogen can become a viable alternative to battery power, never mind the well-entrenched internal combustion engine. Fuel cells, he argued, are too complex, too costly and there’s a complete lack of a production and distribution network.
“Where’s the infrastructure? Who’s going to build it,” echoed Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan Motor Co., during an appearance at the Tokyo Motor Show last week, where rival Toyota unveiled a prototype of the hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle it plans to put into production in 2015.
Toyota repeated that announcement in Los Angeles, where Honda and Hyundai also put battery car prototypes on display. Honda expects to have a production version of its FCEV fuel-cell concept ready for market in 2015, while Hyundai’s Tucson Fuel-Cell Vehicle will be rolling into showrooms by next spring, according to the Korean carmaker.
Fuel cell technology has been around since the 1830s, since British chemist William Grove developed the concept. But the first practical application only came in the 1970s, providing power for the Apollo moon capsules.