Toyota and Honda recently disclosed plans to offer hydrogen-powered electric vehicles as early as late 2014, seemingly racing to become the first carmaker to roll out such units. Toyota’s fuel cell vehicle will be available late next year while Honda’s offering will go on sale in 2015. They, however, didn’t expect a South Korean rival to gain a head start in this segment.
In the spring of 2014, Hyundai will roll out a hydrogen-powered version of its Tucson compact crossover, sweetened by a free-fuel, $499-a-month lease deal. Hyundai’s move will allow it to take advantage of the finite pool of early adopters, just like what Toyota did with gasoline-electric hybrids.
"Today, right here, the hydrogen fuel cell is making a shift from a research project to a real consumer choice," John Krafcik, chief executive of Hyundai Motor America, remarked during the unveiling of the hydrogen-powered Tucson at the Los Angeles Auto Show.
Toyota, Honda and Hyundai will duke it out in Southern California, the only place where fuel cells could thrive thanks to skeletal infrastructure of around 10 hydrogen filling stations. Their executives all concede that sales of fuel cell vehicles will be low and that refueling infrastructure remains a major obstacle.
Despite the low expectations for hydrogen-powered vehicles, the competition between Hyundai, Honda and Toyota marks a decisive moment in a larger battle over the future EV market, which scope is expanding as California's zero-emission vehicle mandate compels carmakers to offer more clean cars on the road.
There is currently an ongoing effort to address the lack of filing stations, with 19 new ones under development in California. The state is also planning to finance and open 100 publicly available stations by 2024. Supporters of the technology say it solves the two largest problems hounding battery EVs: limited driving range and long recharging times.