Fuel cell announcements dominate 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show

Article by Christian Andrei, on November 27, 2014

The Los Angeles Auto Show used to be a venue dominated by plug-in electric vehicles and hybrids, as carmakers try to commit to the increasing demand for environment friendly units. But in this year’s edition of the show, EVs and hybrids were dwarfed by announcements of new hydrogen fuel cell concepts as well as investments into refueling infrastructure.

These announcements are a clear indication that carmakers are not just looking into EVs and hybrids as the future of clean transportation, but are also seeing a good promise in fuel cell vehicles. They are also an indication that carmakers are all set into creating a market for fuel cell vehicles.

For instance, Honda, a pioneer in fuel cell vehicle development, will spend $13.8 million to help build hydrogen fueling stations in California, a hotbed for clean-energy vehicles. Toyota is also supporting that move and is cooperating with other companies to set up refueling stations in the Northeast.

Volkswagen, meanwhile, has indicated that as soon as a sufficient fueling network is established, it would bring a range of hydrogen-powered vehicles to the market. Toyota also recently unveiled its first production fuel cell car, the Mirai, and announced that its sales will start next year at a starting price of $57,500, which excludes federal and California incentives of about $13,000.

Still, the price of the Mirai would fail to generate enough revenue to cover millions of dollars of r&d and component costs that Toyota has invested. However, the price is Toyota’s best estimate of how much a customer might be willing to shell out to buy a fuel cell car.

"We thought we could sell at this price level," Yoshikazu Tanaka, chief engineer of the Mirai and former chief engineer for the Prius plug-in hybrid, said.

Fuel cell vehicles -- adoption by consumers might be hampered by lack of fueling infrastructure – are considered more viable than plug-in EVs in terms of range and charging times. In fact, the Toyota Mirai and Honda’s FCV are capable of travelling 300 miles on a tank of hydrogen fuel and it just takes three to five minutes to refuel them at the refueling stations.

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