Toyota recently announced that they would be scaling back on pure EV development in favor of more work on their hybrids, a market where they are seeing continued growth. Though sales of plug-in vehicles on the whole have increased this year, it has been the Chevy Volt which has made up the bulk of these sales, while sales of pure electrics like the Nissan Leaf have fallen well short of expectations. Though no automakers which have started down the battery path have yet to throw in the towel, the grim realities of the market for pure EV models mean that automakers are starting to look elsewhere for the next big thing in alternative fuels. Hydrogen has been seen as a pipe dream by many for some time, but changes in the alternative fuels market seem to have left an opening.
CNN reports that with battery EVs moving to the back burner, vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells are now looking to overtake them as a priority for automakers. Honda already offered a fuel-cell vehicle, the FCX Clarity, for lease to select customers in California in very small numbers. But Hyundai will be leasing a hydrogen-powered version of the Tucson for the mass market starting next month. Their plan is to have 1,000 units on the road by 2015 and to be producing 10,000 units annually after that. Toyota and Honda have also announced plans to have mass market hydrogen cars on the road by 2015, and several other automakers have begun development as well.
Each technology has something which the other cannot offer, so it has been difficult for automakers to decide on which direction to move. Hydrogen can offer longer range and quicker refueling times than battery vehicles, and by an absolutely huge margin at that. But production of hydrogen fuel is at present very inefficient, and battery cars make much more efficient use energy. Proponents of each say the technologies will improve to the point of being universally practical, but it’s still not clear which one or how. Hyundai has a plan for this though. They say that the new hydrogen technology will be used for larger vehicles and batteries for smaller vehicles, at least for the foreseeable future. It’s a sounds strategy, but more than anything, this shift shows just how difficult it is to predict the future, and that it is still very much up in the air.