With the imminent launch of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles from Honda and Toyota, carmakers and a handful of customers are about to take a leap of faith.
One of the biggest unknowns of this undertaking is how much the cars will actually cost. As a technology that’s new to the mainstream, it’s likely that fuel cells will carry a price premium.
Or maybe not.
Speaking to Germany’s Automobilwoche, Daimler head of corporate research Herbert Kohler said the fuel-cell car, due in 2017, will cost about the same as a comparable hybrid.
That contrasts Toyota’s plan to sell the FCV sedan in Japan for around $69,000, much higher than its Prius hybrid mainstay.
Granted, the Daimler fuel-cell vehicle will have a Mercedes-Benz badge, and that brand’s luxury hybrids already command a higher price than anything wearing Toyota’s interlinked ovals.
Mercedes is also partnering with Ford and Nissan to develop a fuel-cell system with common parts that could be used by all three carmakers. This could reduce cost through volume, and is the reason why Mercedes won’t launch its car until 2017.
The Toyota FCV and a Honda model based on the FCEV concept will beat the Germans to the punch, but all of the hydrogen-powered cars planned for the near future may be hampered by a lack of refueling stations.
Right now, there are only a handful of stations, mostly in California. The Golden State has committed to funding additional stations, but other state haven’t followed suit.
So the question of whether people will be able to afford fuel-cell vehicles may just be a prelude to the question of whether they’ll be able to go anywhere in them.