2016 Toyota Fuel Cell SedanEnlarge Photo
Two Japanese automakers, Toyota and Honda, are putting their weight behind fuel-cell vehicles, rather than battery electric cars, as the alternative-propulsion technology of the future.
Time will tell if that's a wise decision but they do at least have one significant supporter--the Japanese government.
There is method behind Japan's decision though, and one that doesn't exclude support for battery-electric vehicles either--the country wants to cover all bases.
Navigant Research likens it to President Obama's "all of the above" approach to energy independence in the U.S.--an energy strategy that utilizes oil, natural gas, solar, nuclear, wind power, and several other energy sources wherever appropriate, reducing the country's dependence on just one or two sources of energy.
By spreading attention across several forms of energy production rather than concentrating on just one, the industry is better able to prepare itself whatever the future brings.
Japan is essentially doing the same thing with alternative fuel technology.
Electric power is clearly important, but the country's Fukushima nuclear plant disaster highlighted the issue of running a country--and by extension, electric vehicles--on a significant source of power like nuclear.
The incident caused widespread anti-nuclear sentiment and has had lasting results on the country's power generation, not least as the country replaced some of its previous nuclear output--which covers a third of Japan's energy demands--with coal and natural gas.
Shortly after the disaster, some speculated that nuclear's tainted image would also affect the appeal of electric cars. Fuel-cell cars sidestep this issue, though Macdonald & Company notes that the Japanese Shinsei Bank Ltd has set aside $2 billion in loans to fund the country's clean energy plans.
At the very least, fuel-cell vehicles give customers an alternative to battery electric vehicles.
For some, the few hundred miles range and quick refueling time of Toyota's upcoming fuel-cell vehicle may be more suitable than the hundred miles of a typical electric car.
Japan is also keen on fuel cells for supporting energy independence. The country is already experienced with the technology--Japan has a residential fuel-cell program with over 42,000 stationary units employed throughout the country. The government has already stipulated that these are capable of starting up when grid power is down.
When it comes to cars, subsidies for fuel-cell vehicles are already in place, while Japan has already committed to building 100 hydrogen fueling stations in key metropolitan areas.
The cars won't be cheap, at least initially--the Toyota FCV is set to cost around $70,000, or the price of a Tesla Model S--but the country will be ready for them when they arrive.