Plug-In Hybrids Are The Best Competitors To Fuel-Cell Vehicles: Here's Why

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2015 Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell at hydrogen fueling station, Fountain Valley, CA

2015 Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell at hydrogen fueling station, Fountain Valley, CA

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With the imminent unveiling of the Toyota Fuel Cell Vehicle, and the Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell already on sale, you can expect to hear a lot more about hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles in the coming months.

Initially they will be offered only in very low numbers, and restricted to Southern California, where the state and the carmakers are jointly funding the installation of several dozen hydrogen fueling stations.

2015 Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell at hydrogen fueling station, Fountain Valley, CA

2015 Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell at hydrogen fueling station, Fountain Valley, CA

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Cars that use hydrogen as fuel to produce electricity in a fuel cell are, by definition, zero-emission vehicles: Their only exhaust is water vapor.

As such they have tended to be posed against battery-electric vehicles, the other (and more common) ZEV now on the market.

DON'T MISS: 10 Questions On Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Cars To Ask Toyota, Honda & Hyundai

But electric-car advocate Chelsea Sexton suggests a different framing.

The quotes below are excerpted and edited from a longer conversation about where hydrogen-powered vehicles fit into the U.S. market.

"I don't think battery-electric cars are the main competition for fuel-cell vehicles, and they never were," she said.

"Plug-in hybrids, on the other hand, absolutely are--especially if you think about longer-range plug-in hybrids and range-extended vehicles like the Chevy Volt and BMW i3 REx."

MORE: Toyota Fuel-Cell Ad Asks: Are You 'The Bold Few' Or A 'Handbrake'?

"The entire sales pitch for fuel-cell cars can be summed up as 'long range, fast fueling'."

"Yes, electric cars can achieve long range at a price, and 'fast fueling' depending on how you define that, and proper infrastructure. Today, there's far more fast charging than there is hydrogen infrastructure--but that's missing the point."

BMW X5 e-Drive plug-in hybrid prototype, test drive, Woodcliff Lake, NJ, April 2014

BMW X5 e-Drive plug-in hybrid prototype, test drive, Woodcliff Lake, NJ, April 2014

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"A decently electrified plug-in hybrid or range-extended electric car is already both long-range and fast-fueling, with no infrastructure issues at all. Off the lot, today. And far less expensive than any fuel-cell vehicle will be in the next 5 to 10 years."

"Assuming a category of plug-in hybrids that basically meets most folks' daily commute--not an 11-mile Prius, maybe 19-mile Fords, but certainly a 38-mile Volt or a 72-mile BMW i3 REx, they're already driving in zero-emission mode for 70 to 80 percent of the time--based on Department of Transportation data and what's been said publicly by carmakers themselves."


 
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