CNN Says Fuel Cells Will Compete with Battery-Powered Cars
CNN is reporting today that hydrogen fuel cells “could overtake today’s battery-powered vehicles.” The news agency’s primary evidence is the expected release “by the end of this year” of the fuel-cell version of Hyundai’s ix35 sport utility vehicle—known in the US as the Tucson. According to CNN, Hyundai will lease a few Tucson fuel cell vehicles starting in just a few weeks, and plans to make up to 1,000 fuel cell cars by 2015. Hyundai’s long-term target will be 10,000 units a year.
Hyundai has mostly remained on the sidelines when it comes to plug-in electric cars. The company has presented a number of concept vehicles, and early in 2012 announced that it would invest $4.4 billion in EV technology. But the company has not made a definitive announcement about making and selling a plug-in car.
In its report, CNN outlined the advantages that fuel cell vehicles have over EVs: longer range, quicker refueling times, and application of the technology on larger vehicles.
"There might be some overlapping in-between, but basically, our strategy is that we are developing fuel cells for heavier and mid-size cars and (battery-powered) electric vehicles for smaller ones," said Byung Ki Ahn, the general manager of fuel-cell research at Hyundai. He said that fuel cell cars are not directly competing with EVs.
CNN also reported that adoption of fuel-cell cars could be stymied by the high cost of hydrogen fueling stations, which it said costs $1 million or more each to build, according to industry analysts. Production costs for battery-powered electric cars, despite relatively expensive battery packs, have an advantage—because current estimates for producing fuel cars are at least $100,000. Hyundai hopes to bring down those costs in the next three to five years, so that it can eventually offer the fuel cell Tucson at about $50,000.
As Hyundai puts its first fuel cars on the road—and others including Toyota and Honda will follow suit in the next few years—the media is likely to continue to portray fuel cell cars as a viable market alternative to battery-powered electric vehicles. But five years from now, only the first few thousand fuel cell cars will reach US roads, and perhaps the first few hundred hydrogen stations will be put into service. By that time, there will be approximately 1 million battery-powered EVs on American roads, with abundantly available public charging in most parts of the country.
CNN gives Kevin See, a senior analyst of electric vehicles at Lux Research in Boston, the final word in its article. He says that petro-powered cars—rather than either battery or fuel cell vehicles—have the biggest market advantage. “They don't force you to change your habits in terms of fueling, he said, “You can still fill up at a gas station.” The article fails to explain that drivers of battery electric vehicles don’t need to go to a gas station to refuel, and can conveniently charge up at home overnight when vehicles are seldom used.
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