A few years ago, automotive manufacturers were adamant in telling the public that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles were going to be the primary transportation of the future. However, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles never took off in the market place and have been mass produced by only three different companies (Honda, Toyota, and Hyundai). Many consumers wonder what factors led to the halt in hydrogen fuel cell development.
The most influential disruption in hydrogen fuel advancements are the automakers Tesla and Nissan. In 2010, Nissan released the Leaf which is an all-electric hatchback that had a range of about 73 miles. When consumers paired varying state tax incentives with a $7500 government tax credit, the payback on the Leafs were considered too good to pass up. Tesla on the other hand took a different approach. In 2012, Tesla released its Model S which revolutionized the automotive industry. The Model S offered an electric range that was comparable to gasoline engines, as well as an attractive design and autonomous capabilities. Tesla had set a new standard for automakers and became one of the most desired cars in the United States. Tesla also expanded very quickly which allowed them to build charging station all along the coast of California and in various cities throughout the United States and Western Canada. Today, there is close to 1000 supercharging stations in North America. This rapid expansion of charging stations allowed them to combat their biggest road block with consumers, long range road trips. There have also been rumors that Tesla could implement automated battery swapping stations, which could swap a dead battery for a fully charged battery in a matter of seconds, thus eliminating the 30-90 minute wait to charge an electric vehicle.
The current range of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles is around 300 miles, which is comparable to both an electric vehicle and a gasoline vehicle. The current cost to refuel a hydrogen fuel cell car ranges between $13 and $16 which is more affordable than buying a tank of gas but not as affordable as charging an electric car at home (at 0.11 per kWh it cost roughly $2.64 per charge). There is also a very limited number of hydrogen fueling stations in the United States; there are currently 40 stations in the U.S., most of which are in California. Lastly, the average sticker price for a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle is around $60,000 which makes the payback on the vehicles almost insurmountable.
Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are very impressive from a technological standpoint but are not sustainable within the market place. Limited refueling stations, high sticker prices, and underwhelming media coverage has put hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in a distant second place to electric vehicles. When also considering the advancements in residential solar panels and at-home power storage (Tesla home battery), electric vehicles clearly appear to be the car primary mover of the future.