Hydrogen Cars Will Struggle Outside Of Japan

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Shigeru Shoji, President of Volkswagen Group Japan, says that hydrogen cars will only be successful in the Japanese market because of extensive government subsidies – up to $28,500 per fuel cell vehicle – and assistance in building the infrastructure needed for hydrogen distribution. He believes hydrogen cars will not make it in the marketplace in other countries where the government is not willing to make such major investments to support a hydrogen economy.

Shoji recently told Bloomberg News that the commitment by Toyota and the Japanese government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to hydrogen powered fuel cell vehicles is just another example of “the Galapagos Syndrome” that plagues Japanese manufacturing – a pattern of building products that are only suitable for the Japanese home market.

Such stinging criticism drew a rebuke from Toyota. Company spokesman Dion Corbett says such massive support from the government is necessary to get hydrogen technology out of the laboratory and into the marketplace. He believes hydrogen will have a bright future not only in Japan but in Europe, California and the East Coast of America as well. Ford CEO Alan Mulally told Bloomberg recently to expect more hydrogen cars in the coming years.

In the meantime, Volkswagen is keeping an eye on Toyota and the hydrogen economy in Japan. VW Japan spokesperson Yasuo Maruta says it’s goal is to be no more than 3 years behind in fuel cell technology in case hydrogen power becomes more viable. However, even Toyota admits that a full tank of hydrogen fuel will cost $50 to begin with, though may eventually settle in the $30 range. That’s for 300 miles of driving range, mind you, and only in areas (i.e. SoCal) where hydrogen fuel stations are.

While both hydrogen and battery advocates claim their system is the most environmentally friendly, the truth is that both rely heavily on fracking. Why? Because hydrogen is made primarily from natural gas and most electricity is generated by natural gas, at least in the US.  And fracking is what makes the abundance of low cost natural gas we enjoy at the moment possible. The road to emissions free driving that doesn’t pollute the environment is an illusion if fracking is its foundation.

Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.