Volkswagen Group believes that fuel cell vehicles might not fail to become popular outside Japan, where such units receive up to JPY3 million ($28,500) in subsidies from the government. The group’s Japan President, Shigeru Shoji, told Bloomberg in an interview that the subsidies provided for by the Japanese government might be too high for other countries to offer themselves.
He noted that refueling in Japan will be impractical since handling hydrogen is challenging and building infrastructure will be costly. He said that fuel cells could be another example of the "Galapagos syndrome," referring to Japanese technologies and products that are only popular domestically, but failed to catch on globally.
Shoji’s comments come as Toyota prepares its first production fuel cell car that will be rolled out in its home country before April 2015. It will carry a price of around JPY7 million ($69,000). Shoji is the latest auto executive that has voiced out criticisms against fuel cells, joining likewise critic and Tesla Motors chief executive Elon Musk.
Both are executives in carmakers who are pursuing different approaches to reducing carbon dioxide footprint left by their vehicles. According to Toyota spokesman Dion Corbett, fuel cell cars offer one of the best solutions to reducing carbon emissions in Japan. He remarked that since fuel cell system costs are still relatively expensive, subsidy support from the Japanese government is needed.
He, however, admitted that that it is “difficult to imagine” that fuel cell vehicles would be widely used in the next few years. Toyota said in June that it is expecting fuel cell vehicles to get demand from Japan, Germany and the state of California as well as the US East Coast.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has drawn a vision for creating a "hydrogen society," in which fuel cells power homes, office buildings, and vehicles.