Over the past 30 years, various European countries have invested close to $700 million in hydrogen fuel cell research. That brings us to today, as Toyota prepares to launch its first production fuel cell vehicle, though the way forward is fraught with challenges. By one analyst’s estimates, Toyota could lose more than $100,000 on every FCV it sells, as well as the cost of building a hydrogen fuel infrastructure.
AutoBlog Green reports that former European Parliament President Pat Cox says that hydrogen fuel cell vehicle manufacturers face a “first-mover disadvantage”, as the lack of infrastructure and high cost of vehicles fall to automakers to solve. The European Union recently gave member states the freedom to develop their own alternative fuel transportation network, dropping the requirements for hydrogen fuel stations entirely.
There are just 27 public stations spread across all of Western Europe, and while that number should increase to 47 stations by next year, at the cost of about $1.3 million each, building an extensive hydrogen fueling network will prove enormously expensive. This means costlier fuel, will a full tank of hydrogen costing $50 for about 300 miles of driving range.
But the real kicker is the cost of the vehicle itself.
Cox estimates that the Toyota FCV (also known as the Mirai) will actually cost between 50,000 and 100,000 euro more to produce than the automaker sells it for. That works out to about $66,000 to $133,000 (I split the difference at $100,000), which makes the $14,000 lost on every Fiat 500E look like small potatoes. In the U.S. the FCV will sell for around $70,000 before incentives, but Cox says that in order for any hydrogen vehicles to work in Europe, they’ll have to be financially viable independent of government incentives. Member countries will support the early stages of the network, but the onus will fall on automakers like Toyota and Hyundai to invest in the necessary infrastructure to support their vehicles.
The embedded advantages of plug-in vehicles may be too much to overcome, especially in Europe where there are already tens of thousands of charging stations spread out across the continent. There are more Tesla Superchargers (which are free, I should remind you) operating in Europe right now than there will be hydrogen fuel stations next year.
Toyota is asking people if they’re prepared to becoming a trailerblazer. But unless Toyota is prepared to make a massive investment in infrastructure along with its vehicles, hydrogen stands little chance of becoming the alt-fuel of choice in Europe.