After all the hullabaloo over fuel-cell cars, a new report forecasts that global sales of the hydrogen-powered vehicles will amount to only about 70,000 by 2027. That’s only about 0.1% of all new vehicles sold.
By comparison, that’s equal to the number of full-size pickup trucks that Ford sold in the U.S. last month.
Development of hydrogen as a zero-emission fuel is being held back by the continued lack of refueling stations, says the report by IHS Automotive. The stations are expensive, about $3 million each, the report says. It also comes as automakers continue to pour millions into developing the advanced cars.
Hyundai and Toyota have introduced new-generation hydrogen cars in the U.S., with one from Honda due by the end of year. Most of the cars are going to California, which now has 16 stations with more than 40 expected by the end of the year, according to the California Fuel Cell Partnership, the state organization leading the effort.
Between the new cars and stations, “this is a now-or-never situation” for hydrogen cars when it comes to the mass market, says Ben Scott, senior analyst of IHS Automotive.
The study notes that the per-charge ranges of electric cars continue to increase. If they catch up to 300- to 400-mile ranges of hydrogen cars, it will take away one of the fuel-cell vehicles’ key advantages. Now, says IHS Automotive, is the “window of opportunity” for the technology.
Advocates say hydrogen still has key advantages over electric cars. Besides the range, they can be refueled in five minutes in the same manner as gasoline-powered cars. No need for a plug.
Hydrogen cars hold out “the attractiveness to consumers in having to make the least amount of change in their behavior from the current experience,” says Morry Markowitz, president of the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association. While there are few hydrogen cars on the road, he says they will remain one of several technologies from which consumers can choose for years to come.
Hyundai, which has delivered about 100 Tucson fuel-cell SUVs, on the road says owners are happy and the technology still shows promise. Spokesman Derek Joyce says hydrogen fuel-cells can be more easily scaled up in size to handle larger vehicles.
Toyota, which has more than 100 of its Mirai fuel-cell cars on the road in the U.S. as well, sees bigger potential for hydrogen. It has set a global goal of more than 30,000 annual fuel-cell vehicle sales by around 2020, with many of them in its home nation of Japan.