Will fuel cell vehicles be able to thrive and surpass plug-in vehicle sales?

toyota-mirai-at-hydrogen-stationThe question of which clean technology will prevail in the car of the future continues to permeate the auto industry. Plug-in electrified vehicle sales led the way in recent months, breaking the 1% mark of total sales in the U.S. for the first time in November; and seeing ambitious PEV product launch announcements from Volkswagen, Daimler, BMW, and Toyota in the fall. That was triggered by Tesla receiving more than 400,000 down payments soon after showing its Model 3 reveal during the spring; and post-VW “dieselgate” scandal government crackdowns increased in Europe, the U.S., and South Korea.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are starting to see new vehicle launches and more stations being built, but it still has a very slight presence in the global market. But long-term, global auto executives think fuel cell vehicles will win out over PEVs in volume sales. One of the issues involved is that California’s zero emission vehicles mandate counts battery electric vehicles and fuel cell vehicles, but is phasing out plug-in hybrids; and nine other states are also following California’s ZEV guidelines.

A new study from KPMG took a deep look at this issue, and several other technology innovations and pressures shaping the next phase of the industry’s future. Here are a few key findings:

  • KPMG’s Global Automotive Executive Survey 2017 interviewed almost 1,000 senior executives from auto industry companies, including automakers, suppliers, dealers, financial services providers, rental companies, mobility services providers, and companies from the information and communication technology (ICT) sector. Additionally, more than 2,400 consumers from around the world were surveyed to share their perspectives and have them compared against the opinions of leading auto executives.
  • As for top issues auto executives see shaping the industry in the near future:

No. 1:  battery electric vehicles (BEVs) with regulatory pressure pushing awareness for             electrification
No. 2: connectivity and digitalization
No. 3: fuel cell electric vehicles
No. 4: hybrid electric vehicles
No. 8: mobility as a service/carsharing
No. 9: autonomous and self-driving cars

  • Battery electric mobility shot up from No. 9 in 2015 to No. 1 in 2017.
  • KPMG consulting analysts see the success of BEVs depending on infrastructure and application. “Success of BEVs depends on infrastructure and application. Coordinated actions for infrastructure set-up, and a clear distinction of reasonable application areas (e.g. urban, long-distance) needs to be established,” said Moritz Pawelke, global executive for automotive at KPMG.
  • The report sees a few market trends clashing together, lost in translation, between evolutionary, revolutionary, and disruptive key trends that all need to be managed at the same times. Industry executive are “torn in between” as traditional combustion engines have become even more technologically relevant, but socially unacceptable. It’s also a new phase in the industry history where connectivity, mobility services, and automated vehicles are approaching faster than expected.
  • Executives are tipping toward fuel cell vehicles may be that they have a strong attachment to the existing infrastructure and traditional vehicle applications. That comes from fast fueling and liquid gas pumps at fueling stations, and an existing fueling infrastructure carrying hydrogen in pipelines and tanker trucks.
  • Setting up a user-friendly charging infrastructure is the problem leading 62% of the surveyed auto industry executives to believe that BEVs will fail.
  • In contrast, 78% of executives believe fuel cell electric vehicles will be the “golden bullet of electric mobility.”
  • “The faith in FCEVs can be explained by the hope that FCEVs will solve the recharging and infrastructure issue BEVs face today. The refueling process can be done quickly at a traditional gas station, making recharging times of 25-45 minutes for BEVs seem unreasonable. However, this technology is far from market maturity and will bring new unsolved challenges like the cooling of hydrogen or the safe storage in a car,” the study said.

I would also list a few other major challenges fuel cell electric vehicles face competing against PEVs and petroleum-powered vehicles:

  1. Less experience with the technology by consumers and fleet operators. There’s concern over safety, reliability, cost, and refueling infrastructure outside of California.
  2. Sales volume has been soft and will take years to grow. For example, HybridCars’ Dashboard reports that there were 1,034 Toyota Mirais, the top-selling fuel cell vehicle by far, in the U.S. during 2016. That compares with 29,156 Tesla Model S units and 24,739 of Chevy Volt units, the two top selling plug-in models in the U.S. last year.
  3. Europe is beating the U.S. in hydrogen stations, but the sales are still behind the limited numbers seen so far in the U.S. The European Alternative Fuels Observatory reported in December that there are over 75 hydrogen fueling stations in operation in Europe, more than double the U.S. with its current level being 33 as of early December, according to U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center. EAFO also reported that there are about 500 passenger fuel cell electric vehicles on European roads, with only about 200 of these units sold during 2016.
  4. Fast chargers are breaking through in the U.S., and will see more activity in Europe and Asia. That’s being led by Tesla’s Supercharger network and the EVgo and ChargePoint networks in the U.S.; and German automakers in Europe.
  5. Hydrogen stations are being established as singular, hydrogen-only stations and not as part of existing retail gas stations. The KPMG study indicates that those surveyed and writing the report assume that hydrogen pumps will be added to gas stations, but that hasn’t been the case so far.
  6. Hydrogen stations cost about $1 to $2 million per station to build, and need to have their hydrogen supply trucked in or coming through a hydrogen pipeline. While the Shell hydrogen station in Torrance, Calif., sponsored by Honda and Toyota, has fuel coming in from a pipeline, the other stations usually have the fuel delivered by tanker trucks like the ones used at gas stations. Government backing is helping a lot of these hydrogen stations to be developed in California, Europe, and Japan, but long-term, the fueling question will need to be resolved. That would likely include the home hydrogen station concept being explored by Honda.

Here are a few more points to consider on the future of cars:

  • Automakers are still resisting spending enough on marketing PEVs to help get car buyers to take them more seriously. The Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, a nonprofit group made up of air-quality regulators from eight states, just issued a report on this topic. Car companies are targeting them at a few select state like California and not going national like they are with gasoline-powered vehicles. Automakers are spending their finite ad budgets on vehicles known to sell well and generate profits, like pickups, SUVs, and luxury cars. PEVs haven’t become profitable for them yet.
  • Hybrids aren’t going away even if ZEV regulations are heading in that direction. Over the next 5 years, 53% of automotive executives in the KPMG study are planning to highly invest in plug-in hybrids and 52% in ICEs and full hybrids. Hybrids make up nearly 3% of new vehicle sales compared to plug-ins, and plug-in hybrids are doing very well including the Chevy Volt in the U.S. and the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV in Europe.
  • Carsharing, ride-hailing, and ridesharing aren’t just a momentary fad. According to the KPMG study, by 2025, more than half of all car owners today will no longer want to own a car. That comes from 59% of auto execs and 35% of consumers surveyed. Auto execs think that disruption will led to more support for mobility as a service, and shared vehicles and trips. I would agree with other analysts who also believe vehicle electrification will play a big part in the shared economy. Young consumers tend to be more interested in electric vehicles and supportive of the technology, especially if it’s powered by renewable energy. They’re more likely to use Uber, Lyft, Zipcar, and other mobility services and have been losing interest in owning cars.
  • China is the leading auto market in the world, and sales of “new energy vehicles” are expected to grow. India will soon be the largest nation in the world, surpassing China’s population in the near future based on current birth rates. About two thirds of the auto executives interviewed think that the global share of new vehicle sales will reach 40% sold in China by 2030. Two-thirds of those interviewed think that India won’t come anywhere near China in new vehicle sales in 2030. PEV sales in India have been slight compared to China, Japan, South Korea, the U.S., and Europe.

This Week’s Top 10: Honda Clarity longest range ZEV, Faraday Future unveiling first production electric car

by Jon LeSage, editor and publisher, Green Auto Market

Here’s my take on the 10 most significant and interesting occurrences during the past week…….

  1. honda-clarity-fuel-cellLongest range ZEV: The Honda Clarity Fuel Cell sedan, launching later this year, received a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency driving range rating of 366 miles and fuel economy rating of 68 miles per gallon of gasoline-equivalent combined, according to American Honda. That makes it the longest range zero emission vehicle that will be sold in the U.S. “Not only does the Clarity Fuel Cell fit five passengers and refuel in three to five minutes, it offers customers a driving range on par with gasoline-powered cars,” said Steve Center, vice president of the Environmental Business Development Office at American Honda Motor Co. “The Clarity leads the pack with a 366 mile driving range rating, and with a growing network of hydrogen stations and fast fueling time, the zero-emissions family road trip is no longer science fiction.”
  2. Faraday reveal at CES: Faraday Future will unveil its first production vehicle at CES 2017, at the same consumer electronics show where the Chinese startup was originally introduced. The company hasn’t revealed details on the first car and whether it will be the FFZERO1 electric concept car. It’s just shown a teaser image on its Twitter page so far. A spokesman told Fortune that the first product “will be a premium electric vehicle that combines extreme technology, industry leading range, and holistic design.”
  3. Green truck nominees: Green Car Journal and the San Antonio Auto & Truck Show named 10 finalists for the 2017 Green Truck of the Year and Commercial Green Car of the Year awards, which will be presented in San Antonio on November 10. Finalists for 2017 Green Truck of the Year include the Chevrolet Colorado, Ford F-250 Super Duty, GMC Canyon, Honda Ridgeline, and RAM 1500. Vying for 2017 Commercial Green Car of the Year are the Ford F-250 Super Duty, Ford Transit Connect, Mercedes-Benz Metris, Nissan Titan XD, and RAM ProMaster City. This year’s finalists do the ‘heavy lifting’ in every day life, while achieving greater levels of environmental performance without sacrificing core capabilities expected from these highly-functional vehicles, said Green Car Journal editor and publisher Ron Cogan. Green Car Journal has yet to announce its 2017 Green Car of the Year award nominees. Earlier this month, journalists from 22 different countries named nominees for a separate award – the 2017 World Car of the Year. One of the categories was nominees for 2017 World Green Car of the Year: Chevrolet Bolt, Chevrolet Malibu, Tesla Model X, Audi Q7 e-tron 3.0 TDI, BMW 740 e iPerformance, Mercedes GLC 350 e, Honda FCV Clarity, Toyota RAV4, Toyota Prius Prime, Hyundai Ioniq, and Kia Niro.
  4. LeEco mishap:  LeEco, a backer of Faraday Future, planned to unveil a self-driving electric car in San Francisco last week. LeEco founder, Chinese billionaire Jia Yueting, was supposed to ride out on stage driven by the concept car, but instead had to run out on stage by himself. The misfire was caused by a delay getting the LeSee car prototype from London – where it is being used in the film “Transformers 5” – to San Francisco, the company. “It shouldn’t be me running out here, we didn’t have any other choice,” Jia told the audience, speaking through a translator. “What we wanted was me in the car, and the autonomous car drives me out.”
  5. Honda green car sales forecast: Honda CEO Takahiro Hachigo said that by 2030, he wants more than two-thirds of U.S. Honda and Acura volume to come from green cars such as hybrids, plug-in hybrids, fuel cell vehicles, and all-electric vehicles, as reported in Automotive News. That would translate to more than one million electrified vehicles a year sold by American Honda Motor Co., based on its present volume. That would be a steep climb over the next 14 years. American Honda sold only 2,329 hybrid vehicles in the U.S. in the first half of the year, and sales of the Accord plug-in hybrid and Fit EV have been very small this year.
  6. GM in China: General Motors says that it will be introducing 20 new or redesigned Chevrolet models by 2020 in China, including hybrids and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. The automaker said five of the 20 vehicles have been introduced this year, including the Malibu XL, the Malibu XL Hybrid, the new Cruze, a Cavalier family sedan, and the sixth-generation Camaro. Most of the vehicles will be made in China by the company’s SAIC-GM joint venture. “Chevrolet will continue to strengthen the best model lineup in the brand’s history in China,” Alan Batey, GM North America president and head of Global Chevrolet, said in a statement. “In the coming years, we will roll out breakthrough products with technologies that improve safety, performance and fuel efficiency for our customers.”
  7. Butterfly wings: Fisker, Inc. has released a teaser photo of its all-electric vehicle that will be launched next year. In the image, you can view raising wings on a sports car. Henrik Fisker has released a teaser image of his first new car. Fisker has tweeted the image with the caption: “A Breakthrough: Innovative new butterfly doors in our new Fisker model, for easier ingress/egress.” He also promises that more will be shared soon on the new vehicle.
  8. Fuel-cell buses: Toyota has announced plans to begin selling hydrogen fuel-cell buses starting early next year. The company plants to be selling more than 100 of these buses in and near Tokyo in advance of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The fuel-cell system is based on what’s used in the Mirai modified to work in a municipal bus.
  9. Atieva launching Tesla competitor: Atieva, a Silicon Valley that began making batteries for Chinese buses before hitting financial troubles, is expected to unveil a Tesla competitor in early December, an electric sedan named Atvus. The company started in 2007 and developed batteries and electric drivetrains, plus battery packs for electric buses in China. Since then, investments by Chinese state-owned carmaker BAIC and LeEco seem to have given the company solid financial backing. Atvus will have the same electric drivetrain as the Mercedes-Benz Vito van named Edna shown in videos earlier this summer. Atvus looks a lot like a Tesla Model S, according to Recode.
  10. Survey on electric cars: Forty-three percent of Californians say they are considering buying or leasing an electric vehicle before 2025, according to a Vrge Analytics survey of 837 conducted in August. When informed that there are EVs in development that are roughly the same price as traditional vehicles with a range of more than 200 miles per charge, sixty-five percent of respondents say they would consider buying or leasing one. “Californians are ready to trade-in their gas guzzlers for clean cars,” said Mike Montgomery, Executive Director of CALinnovates, an advocacy group focused on improving industries and expanding economic opportunities for Californians through innovative technologies. “This research suggests that the EV industry in the state is at a tipping point. Automakers should seize on this opportunity and go all-in – by putting a fleet of world-class, innovative, affordable EVs on the roads.”

Editor’s Notes: Will California and other states support plug-in hybrids on the ZEV path?

ZEVs by 2025In October 2013, eight states signed an agreement to support bringing 3.3 million zero emission vehicles (ZEV) to their roads by 2025. Led by California, governors from seven other states also signed a memorandum of understanding to do so – Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont. At that time, ZEVs were to include battery-electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles, and hydrogen fuel-cell-electric vehicles – and could be used in passenger cars, trucks, and transit buses.

More recently, the California Air Resources Board, the agency implementing the ZEV rules in the state, has been leaning toward battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles while downplaying plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. California has a goal of cutting its carbon emissions 80% from 1990 levels by 2050. Vehicles would need to be fully electric, and plug-in hybrids wouldn’t cut it, said CARB Chairman Mary Nichols.

Here are my thoughts on where this trend could be heading…………..

There might be a way to realistically compromise. Ford, General Motors, Honda, and Toyota have filed a complaint with CARB arguing that vehicle owners are more likely to accept and adopt plug-in hybrids to relieve their range anxiety – and these vehicles are more likely to be accepted in the short run. These automakers pointed to a 2014 analysis by the US Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory to make their case. “Researchers crunched data from 21,600 EVs and plug-in hybrids and found that Volt owners were averaging 9,112 e-miles per year, just shy of Leaf owners’ 9,697 e-miles — even though the Volt can go only half as far before running out of battery power,” according to Automotive News. Dan Sperling, a CARB member and director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California-Davis, tends to agree with automakers on this point. He would rather see two plug-in hybrids on the road than one all-electric vehicle. Taking a more flexible approach is the way to go, according to Sperling. The state is likely to see far more “e-miles in 2030” by supporting plug-in hybrids than would be seen with pure EVs.

Next-gen batteries are still two-to-three years away. Automakers are working with major battery suppliers to offer electric vehicles that are more affordable to consumers and can go at least 200 miles on a single charge. It’s expected to be two-to-three years from now for that to be here, but it could take longer – and there are only so many Tesla models that can go 265 or more miles out on the roads.

Commercial vehicles need extended range. While some vehicles like drayage trucks at ports might be ideal for battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell, many of them will be on roads for hundreds of miles per day and will need to get there. Trucks being tried out in agribusiness in the Central Valley of California are tipping toward plug-in hybrid systems.

Dual fuel and plug-in hybrid could be a good way to go. What if you were to drive a bi-fuel CNG Chevrolet Impala that was also built on the Voltec plug-in hybrid drivetrain? That would offer the driver an opportunity to power the car on natural gas (which emits about 25% less greenhouse gas than a gasoline-engine vehicle), battery power (zero percent emissions) and then have gasoline left over to power the car to take away range anxiety. That might be ideal for fleets that worry about having drivers stuck out on roads. In the next few years, there will be a lot more clean fuels out there, including dimethyl ether (DME), biogas (renewable natural gas), algae biofuel, biodiesel, and renewable diesel. A plug-in hybrid that also runs on a clean fuel would be able to offer extended range and reduced emissions – meeting all the targets.

OEMs are leaning toward plug-in hybrids.  Battery electrics are doing better than plug-in hybrids in US sales right now, but that tends to be weighted toward the Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model S, and the BMW i3. If you look at the product pipelines for major automakers, most of the models coming out are plug-in hybrid. The challenge here will be picking up their sales volume, which will need incentives and more public education about charging and ownership cost. In the long run, plug-in hybrids/extended range electric vehicles appear likely to equal or surpass battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicle sales numbers.

CARB will probably tip in this direction. Automakers are pushing for it and Mary Nichols did acknowledge compromise may be there. Battles between major OEMs and California reached a stalemate in the 1990s, and both automaker executives and government officials in Sacramento are taking a more moderate approach this time around. Nichols said she is wrestling with the best way to reach the state’s emissions goal. “I don’t know where you would find a better example anywhere in the world,” Nichols said, “of a public deliberating body struggling with a really big issue.”

Hydrogen fueling infrastructure sees forward motion

hydrogen stationHydrogen fuel cell vehicles have been the subject of skepticism for years – always waiting to break through but stuck in the planning phase due to excessive production costs for automakers and lack of fueling infrastructure for vehicle owners. In late 2013, automakers (especially Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai) committed to manufacturing and marketing new fuel cell vehicles within the next two years. Now, the fueling infrastructure is getting a boost, and it should benefit from having a prominent automotive executive playing a lead role.

FirstElement Fuel Inc. just won a $27.6 million grant from the California Energy Commission that will bring 19 more hydrogen fueling stations to the state. Joel Ewanick, a former Hyundai and General Motors chief marketing executive, serves as CEO at FirstElement Fuel, and says that once these stations are deployed, fuel cell vehicles will be able to drive anywhere in the state without running out of fuel.

These 19 locations will be assembled at existing filling stations; FirstElement Fuel is ordering the fueling equipment, which will take months to build and install, Ewanick said. They’re expected to be up and running by the fall of 2015 or sooner. The stations will need to have the fuel delivered at first, but can eventually produce hydrogen on site. Having more stations up and running soon will help Hyundai as it launches its 2015 Tucson Fuel Cell this spring; Honda will roll out its new fuel cell car this year and Toyota said it will introduce its fuel cell model in 2015. Toyota has felt strong enough about the fueling infrastructure to provide FirstElement Fuel with an investment of at least $7.2 million.

California announced last week that it is funding $46.6 million in grants for 28 hydrogen stations as part of its commitment to zero emission vehicles. Northeastern states are likely to follow suit with hydrogen fueling, Ewanick said. New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island, Vermont, and New Jersey previously adopted California’s clean air standards.

Ewanick had served as global marketing chief at GM and was ousted in the summer of 2012 for the handling of a controversial sponsorship deal with English soccer club Manchester United. Ewanick played a key role in marketing the Chevrolet Volt (and accepted the Green Car of the Year Award for the Volt at the LA Auto Show in late 2010); he also served as interim chief of global sales and marketing for Fisker Automotive. Ewanick appears to be fascinated with clean, advanced vehicle technologies and their economic opportunities – as are many other people in the automotive and transportation sectors.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has established research and development projects in the past two years with automakers, fuel station providers, and its research centers. Most recently, DOE launched H2FIRST, a collaboration with Sandia National Laboratories and National Renewable Energy Laboratory; the project will focus on accelerating the design and construction of hydrogen fueling stations. Currently, there are only 11 hydrogen stations in the US (10 in California and one in Columbia, SC). Forty seven are actively in development in California, according to the California Fuel Cell Partnership. Several European Union nations are deploying hydrogen stations (with Germany playing the leading role); Japan and South Korea have been committed to the vehicles and fueling stations longer than other nations, and now have several hydrogen fueling stations set up.

Honda green star at LA Auto Show; sneaking a ride in Via Motors plug-in hybrid

Honda Accord green car of year awardHonda enjoyed its presence at the LA Auto Show, gaining lots of media attention for its new hydrogen-powered concept car and for winning the Green Car of the Year award. The 2014 Honda Accord took the green award for its high fuel economy ratings and performance features. All three variations were honored – the gasoline, hybrid, and plug-in hybrid versions. The Accord beat out four other finalists – the Audi A6 TDI, the BMW 328d, the Mazda3, and Toyota Corolla. Last year, another mid-sized US-based automaker car took the Green Car of the Year award for a model with gasoline, hybrid, and plug-in hybrid variants – the Ford Fusion.

Fuel cell vehicles grabbed much media attention at the LA Auto Show. Hyundai showed off a fuel cell version of its Tucson sport-utility vehicle. Hyundai plans to sell 1,000 of these fuel cell vehicles next year in California for a monthly lease price of $499 with $2,999 down. Honda plans to roll out another fuel cell vehicle (in addition to its FCX Clarity) in the US in 2015. Honda unveiled its FCEV, its next-generation fuel cell vehicle.

During the same time that the LA Auto Show was launched, the Tokyo Motor Show was taking place. Toyota showed its FCV (fuel cell vehicle) concept sedan in Tokyo. Toyota said that it’s a “practical concept” of the fuel cell vehicle it plans to launch in 2015; the car will use hydrogen to generate electricity that can travel about 300 miles after a refueling. The concept car can hold four passengers and be refueled in minutes.

Those participating in the Green & Advanced Technology Ride & Drive at the LA Auto Show enjoyed driving the Chevrolet Spark EV, the Fiat 500e, and the Jeep Grand Cherokee with its new 3.0L EcoDiesel V6 clean diesel engine. The award winning 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid was also on hand for a drive around the LA convention center. It’s a bit pricier ($30K to $35K) than arch-competitor Toyota Prius, but it does have a bit more interior space and comfort, and its new dashboard has been designed for simplicity and style.

While Via Motors did not open up its E-REV ride and drive to the media, I was able to sneak a ride in its plug-in hybrid, extended range variation of the Chevrolet Express van; and took a peak at its plug-in version of the Chevrolet Silverado pickup. Both models – the VTRUX cargo van and VTRUX extended cab pickup – offer impressive plug-in ports with an AC inverter and power outlets for both 120 volt and 240 volt charges; the unit also offers a J1772 charging port.

During a press announcement, Via Motors company stakeholder Bob Lutz bragged about the VTRUX’ capabilities including being able to gain a few miles of extra range from solar panels now placed on the truck’s flatbed; and the ability to tap into the VTRUX’ battery pack for backup electricity during a power outage. Lutz was joined onstage by Via’s new CEO, John Weber, former president and CEO of Remy International, a key supplier to Via and to General Motors. Weber says that Via is meeting its fleet orders and will add consumer sales in 2014.

Connected Car Expo was held for the first time ever right before the LA Auto Show started up, and featured expert panelists on telematics, advanced technologies, and a growing alliance between automakers and technology giants. Autonomous cars were discussed by panelists that included Jeff Klei, North American president of major supplier Continental AG, and Ron Medford, Google’s director of safety for self-driving cars. Google has played a major role in testing out driverless cars, but doesn’t have a timetable for when it will release its own autonomous vehicles.

Out on the ground floor of the South Hall, you could see Hyundai’s “Survive the Zombie Apocalypse.” While it may have been placed there for the LA Auto Show, it was right next to the Connected Car Expo display booths and sort of stole the show. Connected Car Expo had some interesting exhibits, but the zombie display did grab most of my attention. It showed altered versions of two of its popular models, with these being renamed the Hyundai Santa Fe ZSM and Veloster Turbo ZSM (ZSM stands for Zombie Survival Machine).  These anti-zombie packages are sure to be more expensive than the MSRP starting price versions – but you do get all kinds of perks to fight off the undead – such as knife-blade wheels, dual chainsaws, a doom whistle, and a machine gun.

Hyundai’s display was started by Robert Kirmman, creator of “The Walking Dead” comic series (that inspired the hit TV series), designing a Zombie Survival Machine around a Veloster earlier this year. The Santa Fe ZSM design was built by Galpin Auto Sports and was unveiled at the New York Comic Con last month.

Big Picture: Hydrogen FCEVs facing rite of passage; Dates announced on two alt-fuel vehicle conferences

Toyota FCVTo paraphrase the Kevin Costner movie, “Field of Dreams” – If you build it, they will come.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles continue to struggle with “chicken or the egg” quandary. There’s only a slim hydrogen refueling infrastructure in the US, and the questions of how much fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) will be priced for and how serious car shoppers will take the products and pricing are far from being answered. Plug-in electric vehicle loyalists like Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk tend to scoff at FCEVs. Yet, other automakers seem to be taking these vehicles seriously.

Hyundai is preparing to launch a fuel cell crossover in the US next year. Hyundai’s president of research and development Kwon Moon-sik thinks cost factors are pointing the company in the direction of FCEVs instead of batteries. Several of his auto industry colleagues share that perspective. Kwon says that advanced lithium ion batteries in electric vehicles remain expensive, and he sees few opportunities for cost reductions coming soon. He thinks hydrogen fuel cells offer more hope for volume savings. The zero emissions part of FCEVs also offers appeal to automakers. Executives at Toyota, Honda, Daimler, General Motors, Ford, and Nissan are mapping out FCEV launches between 2015 and 2020; some of them share Kwon’s perspectives about the cost of FCEVs falling. It’s all part of the partnership alliance formed earlier this year on fuel cell systems between GM and Honda; and another, similar alliance between Nissan, Daimler, and Ford.

The process does require patience. Hyundai already started production of a hydrogen-powered version of its Tucson crossover; the company plans to produce only 1,000 units for sale globally by 2015. Toyota just offered a sneak peak at its FCV concept hydrogen-powered vehicle that it plans to roll out in 2015 (see photo above); the company is hoping to use it to popularize FCEVs as the Prius did for hybrids. “We think it could be the best zero emissions solution that hits the market,” said Bill Fay, general manager of Toyota’s US sale division.

Honda has helped car show attendees gain enthusiasm for FCEVs after driving its limited production FCX Clarity. Another FCEV will be joining the Honda lineup; the automaker just put out a sketch that hints at what will be shown at the upcoming Los Angeles Auto Show. Honda says the new FCEV Concept expresses a “potential styling direction” for a next-generation FCEV due in 2015. Honda appears to be preparing for competition from Toyota’s FCEV being launched that same year.

As for the limited number of hydrogen refueling stations, California plans to open 68 more of them by 2015. There are only nine open in the state now; 19 are in development and another 12 private or demonstration stations are operational. The governor recently signed a bill offering funding for 100 hydrogen fueling stations in the state. California is also thinking about changing its tax credit system so that it would stop favoring plug-in electric vehicles over FCEVs. The US Dept. of Energy continues to make amends with the hydrogen and fuel cell communities through its H2USA program launched in May. It’s a public-private partnership with Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, and Toyota to promote development of the hydrogen refueling infrastructure. The Obama administration just announced a $4 million grant for research into hydrogen fuel storage systems. Then-California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger might have aided the skeptics with his campaign nearly 10 years ago for the “hydrogen highway” to come soon; but steps are being taken forward these days.

Northern California AltCar Expo and ACT Expo release dates
Two significant alt-fuel vehicle conferences have been scheduled. AltCar Expo is seeing its partnership with Bay Area Air Quality Management District come together. The Northern California AltCar Conference & Expo will take place on Friday and Saturday, March 14-15, 2014, at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond, Calif. Check out the event’s website to stay current on the schedule.

The Alternative Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo is looking forward to seeing its record attendance numbers go up yet again. Next year’s conference has been scheduled May 5-8, 2014, back at the Long Beach Convention Center in Long Beach, Calif. It will be co-located with the 14th biennial NGV Global Conference and Exposition. “Merging North America’s largest clean fleet expo with the world’s leading natural gas vehicle conference will result in the largest gathering of clean transportation stakeholders that North America has ever seen,” Erik Neandross, CEO of event manager Gladstein, Neandross and Associates, said in the press release.

Clean Cities offers AFLEET tools and mobile app for stations
Argonne National Laboratory has developed the Alternative Fuel Life-Cycle Environmental and Economic Transportation (AFLEET) Tool for Clean Cities stakeholders to estimate petroleum use, greenhouse gas emissions, air pollutant emissions, and cost of ownership of light-duty and heavy-duty vehicles using simple spreadsheet inputs. The US Dept. of Energy’s Clean Cities Program enlisted the expertise of Argonne to develop a tool to examine both the environmental and economic costs and benefits of alternative fuel and advanced vehicles. You can download the AFLEET tool in Excel and user guide in PDF free of charge at this website.

The tool provides three calculation methods depending on the user’s goals. The Simple Payback Calculator examines acquisition and annual operating costs to calculate a simple payback for purchasing a new alternative fuel vehicle as compared to a similar conventional vehicle, as well as average annual petroleum use, greenhouse gases (GHGs), and air pollutant emissions. The Total Cost of Ownership Calculator evaluates the net present value of operating and fixed costs over the years of planned ownership of a new vehicle, as well as lifetime petroleum use, GHGs, and air pollutant emissions. The Fleet Energy and Emissions Footprint Calculator estimates the annual petroleum use, GHGs, and air pollutant emissions of existing and new vehicles; it takes into consideration that older vehicles typically have higher air pollutant emission rates than newer ones.

For those seeking information on more than 15,000 charging and alternative fuel stations within the US, Clean Cities and National Renewable Energy Laboratory now have a mobile app for iPhone or iPad users. You can quickly find out where EV public charging stations, and fueling pumps for B20 biodiesel, compress and liquefied natural gas, E85 ethanol, hydrogen, and propane, can be found.

But wait, there’s more!……..

  • Brett Hauser, a founding member of the Open Charge Alliance (OCA), a global consortium of public and private electric vehicle infrastructure leaders, and president of Greenlots, had a few things to say about the solutions offered by open standards for electric vehicle charging stations instead of proprietary networks. Here’s a little bit of what he wrote in Greentechmedia….. Charging networks based on open communications standards are an excellent alternative to proprietary networks and have been future-proofing Europe’s EV networks for close to four years now. The open model provides site hosts the freedom to switch network management providers without having to purchase new charging stations. It also stimulates technical innovation by allowing free market competition to push down the costs of both charging station hardware and back-end software, while dramatically derisking the hardware purchase for site hosts.
  • Pricing is coming out on Cadillac’s extended-range ELR$75,995 as a starting price and there’s a marketing deal with the famous department store. For $89,500, you can buy the 2014 Saks Fifth Avenue ELR. You get a White Diamond exterior finish, a Jet Black or Light Cashmere interior shade, a 240-volt charger thrown in the deal, and a relationship with an “ELR Concierge Representative.” These are only available to 100 people, and General Motors only expects to sell a limited number of ELRs anyways.
  • Nissan/Renault chief Carlos Ghosn is backing off big numbers for electric vehicle sales targets. The global automaker was going to sell 1.5 million EVs by 2016. So far, it’s only been about 120,000 units, primarily Nissan Leafs. At the current speed, it’s going to take about five years longer than initially anticipated, he said.
  • Energy Vision is now offering a new publication, “Turning Waste into Vehicle Fuel.” Funded in part by Clean Cities, it’s a first-of-its-kind roadmap for cities, communities, farms, and other generators of organic waste to develop renewable natural gas.
  • Kia is planning on producing an electric version of its Soul crossover subcompact to arrive next year in the US. It will be Kia’s first EV sold outside South Korea and is expected to travel 120 miles on a single charge.

The latest on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and infrastructure

hydrogen fuel cell vehiclesTesla CEO Elon Musk got a lot more media coverage for calling fuel cell technologies “bullsh#t”  –except when used in a rocket. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles don’t come anywhere near the energy density of the lithium-ion battery pack located inside the Tesla Model S, he said.

So what’s the latest on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles?

  1. The infrastructure is very thin – the US Dept. of Energy says there are only 10 hydrogen stations in the US, most all of it in California. California did approve a funding plan that will be bringing 100 hydrogen stations to the state. Europe is ahead of the US on the infrastructure, especially in Italy, Germany, and Belgium.
  2. Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles are being included in the zero emission vehicle policies adopted by California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Oregon, and Vermont.
  3. Hyundai wants to beat competitors by bringing the first of its fuel cell models to US dealer showrooms in early 2014. The volume of these cars will be limited, with total worldwide sales to reach about 1,000 over the next three years, the company said.
  4. Toyota will be putting a fuel cell vehicle into limited production by 2015. Honda says it will be rolling out a replacement to its FCX Clarity fuel cell car. General Motors, which has been testing out its Chevrolet Equinox fuel cell SUV in Project Driveway, will begin production of its own hydrogen vehicle later in this decade. There’s no word yet on what Mercedes will be doing next with its F-Cell, which like the FCX Clarity, has met with very limited sales so far in California.
  5. Fuel cell vehicles are in the midst of ramping up to commercialization, according to Navigant Research. The challenge is reaching sufficient volume to bring down system and plant costs. This is where technology partnerships that we’re starting to see between automakers comes to play. Fuel cell bus deployments are gaining in volume, as are fuel cell scooters and forklifts, which are being carefully monitored by automakers who are rolling out hydrogen fuel cell cars.
  6. Home energy stations, such as one that can generate hydrogen from natural gas, are being tested out by Honda.
  7. The value of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are being recognized by automakers and advocacy/support groups for a few reasons: you can fill the tank in just a few minutes; they’re zero emission, clean vehicles; hydrogen can be extracted from a number of natural sources; the price for manufacturing these cars is coming down quite a bit; they’re fun to drive, as people participating in Project Driveway or driving a fuel cell vehicle at a car show will tell you.