Fuel cell vehicles – current and future

by Ernie Hernandez on December 6, 2014

Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell

A look at fuel cell vehicles – viable or not?

Electric vehicles (EVs) are not all the same. The Nissan LEAF is a battery electric vehicle (BEV) taking its power purely from an on-board battery. The Chevrolet Volt is an Extended Range Electric Vehicle (EREV) using an onboard battery for motivation until the battery charge reaches a pre-determined low level. Once reached, an on-board gasoline engine starts and this engine acts as a generator supplying power to the battery – not the wheels. This article is about a look into Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCV), a different type of EV that makes its own power on-board. Fuel cell powered vehicles make electricity on-board by converting compressed hydrogen into electricity by way of what’s called a fuel cell stack and then sending that electricity to the electric motor to move the car.

So what makes a FCV more attractive than a BEV? When the hydrogen is depleted, you just add more and you’re back on your way. In a BEV the battery must be recharged, which takes longer. Sounds good, right? The problem is that there is virtually no hydrogen fueling infrastructure in place. There are tens of thousands of EV charging stations located in the U.S. A BEV can also be plugged into any regular 120-volt outlet. It will take awhile to charge, but at least it can be done. Once you’re out of hydrogen, if there is no station available, you’re not going anywhere else.

So exactly how many hydrogen stations are out there? According to the U.S. Department of Energy Alternative Fuels Data Center (found here) there are currently 13 hydrogen fueling stations in the United States. According to the California Fuel Cell Partnership (found here), 9 of them are in California. In the current infrastructure state, it would be a very narrow sub-set of the population that could use a FCV now.

At the Los Angeles Auto Show, I had the opportunity to get behind the wheel of three such fuel cell vehicles. Two will not see the light of day for several more years, but one is available now – if you live in that very narrow sub-set of the population. Let’s start with that one.

The Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell is available at only three Southern California Hyundai dealerships, and has been since its first delivery in June of this year. One (very nice) perk that Hyundai throws in is unlimited free hydrogen refueling for the life of the lease. Yes – it is only available via a three-year lease currently for $499 per month.

The Fuel Cell version is a virtual clone of its gasoline counterpart. As the picture above shows, it is a fairly sleek rendition of a small modern crossover, although it has a clunky chrome grille where the stylish gasoline version goes. I guess Hyundai wants you to really know that it’s no regular Tucson.

Get behind the wheel, and it’s as quiet as any EV once running. The fuel cell stack has no moving parts, so adds no noise, vibration, or harshness to the equation. The electric motor is also very quiet, and Hyundai did a great job with interior sound dampening. The first note I wrote to myself about the experience says a lot – Amazingly civilized. The 221 lb-ft of torque moves the 4,101 pound vehicle satisfactorily, but it will never be mistaken for a BMW i3 from a stoplight. On the flip side, the payoff is estimated fuel economy of 49 MPGe city, 51 MPGe Highway, and 50 MPGe combined. Not quite up to the standards of a pure battery powered vehicle, but significantly better than what most folks are driving these days. With Hyundai’s inclusion of free hydrogen, it pretty much makes fuel economy irrelevant for early adopters. As with most EVs, there is a single-speed transmission, so the driving experience is extremely smooth. Hyundai says driving range is 265 miles, so let’s expand that to something like 250 to 280 depending on driving style and conditions, and I think that most people would be satisfied with the range. But only if that range includes a refueling station somewhere along the way. Which brings me to the reason that you won’t see these next two for awhile.

Audi presented their A7 Sportback h-tron quattro and Volkswagen brought their Golf SportWagen HyMotion concept. Representatives on hand were quick to make clear the fact that neither vehicle will see production any time soon. Lack of infrastructure was cited as the reason for the delay. So why have these vehicles here at all? So they can say in a few years time, “Remember? We showed these off years ago at the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show.” The A7 provided brisk, but not blistering, acceleration. Audi does not call a car a quattro unless all four wheels are driven – in this case by two electric motors, one fore, one aft. The VW was fairly slow, but it has to make do with just a single motor driving the front wheels. Both were quiet, but just knowing that they aren’t destined for production anytime soon took much of the excitement out of even driving them. Who knows what they’ll actually be producing when the time comes. Audi claims 62 MPGe, while VW offered no fuel economy estimates.

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Renault-Nissan Alliance sells 200,000th EV globally

by Ernie Hernandez on November 26, 2014

2015 LEAF Front

Alliance has 58% market share

In addition to great market share, Nissan and Renault electric vehicles (EVs) share another commonality – EVs have the highest customer satisfaction rate of all models offered by both brands, a great indicator of continued future success.

Nissan has sold 148,700 EVs globally since the launch of the LEAF in late 2010. The e-NV200 van joined the LEAF in Europe and Japan earlier this year. The LEAF has sold 67,000 in the United States, 46,500 in Japan, and 31,000 in Europe, it’s three largest markets.

Renault has sold 51,500 EVs globally since its first sale of the Kangoo Z.E. in 2011. Renault offers several EV models including the ZOE subcompact, Fluence Z.E. sedan, and the open-cockpit, two-passenger Twizy city car.

In the United States, LEAF sales are up 35 percent over last year with 21 consecutive sales record months showing that LEAF sales are remaining strong.

Speaking of 200,000, when LEAF sales reach that 200,000 number in the United States, that will mark the beginning of the phase-out of the federal income tax credit currently available. Current cumulative sales to date as counted by the Internal Revenue Service can seen on their web site (found here). The second quarter after U.S. sales reach the 200,000 mark, the income tax credit will be reduced by half to $3,750. Upon reaching its next benchmark six months later it will be reduced by half again then taper to zero credit six months after that.

 

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2014 Los Angeles Auto Show

November 23, 2014
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The year of the Fuel Cell? First – above you see Nissan’s BladeGlider concept. Nothing new here as this was announced by Nissan almost exactly a year ago. But this is the first time that we’ve actually had a chance to look at one in real-life. I must admit… it looks just as weird in […]

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Nissan acknowledged for environmental performance

October 18, 2014
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Nissan achieves perfect score in 2014 climate change report The LEAF is not the only area of Nissan’s emphasis toward improving our environment. Last year Nissan reduced global corporate activity CO2 emissions while increasing production over 5 percent. The company is on track to reducing such emissions by 20 percent (from 2005 to 2016). Nissan […]

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LEAF is best value in a Certified Pre Owned compact hatchback

October 14, 2014
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Vincentric Names LEAF to 2014 CPO best value awards According to Vincentric, a Michigan based auto data compiler, the Nissan LEAF has the lowest cost to own in the compact hatchback segment of all manufacturer’s Certified Pre Owned vehicle offerings. This class includes conventional gasoline powered cars, as well as the electric LEAF. In a crowded […]

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LEAF sets record sales month

September 3, 2014
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Nissan LEAF sales continue climibing Nissan has just released sales numbers for August, and LEAF came in with a record 3,186 units sold. The previous monthly high was set back in May of this year with 3,117. Year to date sales are 18,941, an improvement of 34.1 percent over 2013 numbers.

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LEAF 2.0?

August 29, 2014
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  Is this really the next Nissan LEAF? The United Kingdom’s Auto Express recently released these images of what might be the next Nissan LEAF. After seeing them, we tend to agree that the next LEAF could look similar to this. Our feeling is that a highly talented pixel manager created them, but no matter. […]

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Plugshare adds No Charge to Charge filter

July 31, 2014
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Nissan makes Plugshare app official location finder Recargo, provider of the popular online charge station locator app PlugShare, announced that Nissan has made PlugShare the official No Charge to Charge app to find locations. We have been a big PlugShare fan since discovering it a few years ago. The great thing about the app is […]

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PSEG offers free EVSE to businesses for employee incentive

July 22, 2014
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PSEG’s own employees have shown benefits of EV ownership The above infographic hits the high points of why they are making this offer: 13 employees saved $19,000 on gas in one year – that’s an average of $1,461 per employee 5,300 gallons of gasoline went unburned 50 to 60 tons of CO2 avoided 120,000 commuting […]

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Set an end timer to charge your electric car

July 6, 2014
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Why should I set an end timer? All electric cars and many EVSEs (electric vehicle supply equipment) come with a timer that offers the ability to set a start time, end time, or both to enable you to charge your electric car within a specific time window. This article offers a sound reason to use […]

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