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 real-life as it does in pictures. Offering three seating positions with the driver centrally located in the middle up front, with two passengers behind and to either side, and front tires spaced impossibly close together, it seems more concept than production. But as we wrote over a year ago (found here), Nissan may actually produce a variant of this. Stay tuned.
While wandering the show last week, I couldn’t help being taken back by the number of fuel cell vehicles on display and being talked about. I had a chance to drive some, and I’ll get my impressions up over the next few days. But let me just provide a list of what I saw, keeping in mind that I may have missed a thing or two:
- Audi A7 Sportback h-tron quattro
- Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell hydrogen EV
- Toyota Mirai
- Volkswagen SportWagen HyMotion
I got a chance to get behind the wheel of all of these vehicles with the exception of the Mirai. What I found interesting about these displays is that there is virtually no infrastructure to support these vehicles, yet here they are, at one of the most significant auto shows on earth. Volkswagen and Audi are not shy to let you know that these are essentially proof-of-concept vehicles that will not see production for quite some time. Toyota, on the other hand, says that their Mirai will be available late next year. Hyundai is already making the Tucson Fuel Cell available to certain limited Southern California markets with its first delivery having taken place in June.
Fuel cell vehicles have greater range than battery electric vehicles (BEVs) but if you don’t live within convenient distance of one of the few hydrogen fueling stations available, it can be even more restricting than an EV. This is why Audi and Volkswagen have elected to hold off on mass production – they wish to see a significant infrastructure in place before they offer the cars. And therein lies the problem – which comes first – the cars or the fueling stations. Any savvy business man is reluctant to make an investment that won’t see a return for several years so new fueling stations will arrive slowly. And some vehicle manufacturers will not produce the cars without the infrastructure in place.
Nissan helped to solve that challenge with EVs as they required their dealerships to install 240-volt charging stations in order to be able to sell the car. You’re not going to be seeing Toyota require their stores to install hydrogen fueling stations. Also, with an EV, it can be plugged in at home. Some EV owners can easily get by trickle charging their EV on 120-volt power, with the occasional use of higher power elsewhere. Hydrogen fueling stations are not the kind of thing that you’ll be finding in your neighbor’s garage. The hydrogen fueling station challenge will take time and a coalition of resources to resolve before making any significant headway. But the cars themselves… that’s what we’ll write about over the next few days.