The alternative fuel vehicles market is bound to become much more competitive soon, with a few manufacturers planning to launch hydrogen-powered vehicles in 2015, in addition to the Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell, which has been on the market for a couple of months now. While most auto industry observers think that fuel cell cars will have to battle it out with electric cars to establish dominance in the market for alternative fuel vehicles, as they share one very important characteristic – they have zero carbon emissions – it seems that plug-in hybrids might turn out to be a bigger threat to hydrogen cars’ chances for obtaining a large market share.
Even though electric cars have zero emissions, they have a couple of major disadvantages, that hydrogen-powered cars address – long charging times and limited range. Toyota says that its fuel cell vehicle, that will go on sale next year, will have a range of around 350 miles, and will only take 3-5 minutes to refuel, capabilities that can not be matched by even the best electric cars. The Nissan Leaf, for instance, which is the world’s best-selling all-electric car, can not travel more than 80-90 miles per one charge, and it takes up to 7 hours to be fully recharged. Even the high-performance Tesla Model S, with a range of 265 miles and a recharge time of about an hour, is inferior to fuel cell cars.
This is why hybrids, and not pure electric vehicles, could be the most serious competitors to hydrogen cars, with the likes of the Toyota Prius, and the Honda Accord Hybrid, delivering an exceptional fuel economy, rated at over 50 mpg, and an all-electric range varying between 10 and 20 miles, which is enough for the average daily commute. Considering that cars are mostly used for commuting to and from work, this means that in most cases, hybrids are operated in all-electric mode, only emitting minimal amounts of carbon dioxide.
So, when fuel efficiency and emission levels are taken into account, it will be difficult to convince consumers to choose a hydrogen-powered car over a plug-in hybrid. On top of this, hybrids have another, perhaps even bigger competitive advantage – their purchase price. Hybrid cars are slightly cheaper than their all-electric counterparts, and incomparably more affordable than the ones powered by hydrogen. Toyota’s fuel cell sedan is expected to cost somewhere between $65,000 and $70,000, whereas the least expensive hybrids have a price tag of around $20,000. Even though the price of fuel cell technology is bound to go down in years to come, it will take quite some time before they are on a par with hybrids’ purchase prices. This, along with the lack of refueling infrastructure, and the unwillingness of car makers, authorities, and energy companies to invest in the construction of new hydrogen refueling stations, puts hydrogen cars in a pretty unfavorable position, as far as market penetration is concerned, and it seems that hybrids will continue to be the preferred option of environmentally-conscious consumers who are looking for an alternative fuel vehicle they can afford.