For years, Toyota has been betting on hydrogen fuel cell over battery-electric vehicles for its zero-emission vehicle strategy. It put the Japanese automaker behind in the electric transition in the industry.
Now Toyota admits that Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who called hydrogen fuel cell “incredibly dumb”, “is right,” but the company is still heavily investing in the technology.
Musk has often publicly commented on his dislike of hydrogen fuel cell as an energy storage system for vehicles.
For most people, the physics of fuel cell vehicles make little sense compared to battery-powered vehicles.
Between hydrogen production, distribution, and storage, a fuel cell vehicle ends up being just a third as efficient as a battery-powered vehicle getting its power from the same grid as the electrolysis plant making the hydrogen.
The entire process is just extremely more complex than a battery-powered vehicle.
The refueling speed is virtually the only advantage of a hydrogen car. You can refuel a hydrogen car in about 5 minutes while a battery-powered car can take hours to charge and even the fastest systems take over an hour.
But that gap is getting closer every year and hydrogen cars can’t be refueled at home, while any electric car can charge overnight.
That’s the argument that Elon Musk and most EV enthusiasts bring forward when comparing the two technologies.
Surprisingly, Yoshikazu Tanaka, the chief engineer in charge of Toyota’s Mirai, admitted to Reuters this week that plug-in cars make more sense:
“Elon Musk is right – it’s better to charge the electric car directly by plugging in,”
But Toyota chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada adds that they don’t see the two technologies competing and that they are not giving up on hydrogen (yet):
“We don’t really see an adversary ‘zero-sum’ relationship between the EV (electric vehicle) and the hydrogen car. We’re not about to give up on hydrogen electric fuel-cell technology at all.”
They want to keep pushing the Mirai, which has been a poor performer. They only managed to sell a few as compliance cars in California despite the generous incentives.
He is not wrong that the two technologies don’t compete. They don’t compete in the minds of potential customers, but they compete for investments from automakers and those investments lead to further development and production for one or the other.
It becomes clear when you look at automakers who have been heavily investing in hydrogen cars, like Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai, and see that they have become laggers in the EV space.
The sooner they give up on hydrogen, at least for passenger cars, the sooner they will be able to divert those billions of dollars in investments into battery-electric vehicles. I say passenger cars because Toyota is also working on hydrogen trucks, which make better economic sense.
But for passenger cars, it makes no sense based on efficiency and economics, which makes it hard to understand why some automakers are still pushing so hard for it.
What do you think? Let us know in the comment section below.
Featured image by 5 hour Ahead.