Is Toyota's hydrogen fuel-cell fervor foolish, or foresighted? (with charts) Page 4


2017 Toyota Mirai

2017 Toyota Mirai

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There are other considerations as well. New-car buyers may well accept electric vehicles with 300, even 200, miles of electric range, given that most will be able to charge at home and thereby start each day with a full battery.

I expect that this will be the case for a strong majority of car buyers, but that still leaves a large addressable market of battery refuseniks.

On the other hand, some consumers may prefer to pay gasoline-like prices for a 3-minute hydrogen fill-up, than risk being caught in an hour-long lineup at a fast-charging station during a holiday weekend road trip—or risk impairing their mobility in the event of a prolonged power outage.

(Weather-related blackouts aren't uncommon in winter in snowy areas of North America.)

2012 Nissan Leaf winter test

2012 Nissan Leaf winter test

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Conclusions

In this light, Toyota's fuel-cell fervor and battery ambivalence make sense: they anticipate fuel cells becoming cheaper than batteries, or at minimum, a better solution than battery-electric vehicles.

The logic in that thought process is apparent; whether Toyota proves to be right or wrong depends (as always) on the assumptions underpinning the analysis.

Toyota has the luxury of not needing battery-electric vehicles for the next few years. Its broad inclusion of hybrids across its product line means that it's likely in good shape to meet fleet fuel-efficiency standards.

And it can probably meet regional mandates for sales of fully or partially zero-emission vehicles by allocating a sufficient number of Mirais and Prius Primes to the relevant markets.

Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell prototype

Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell prototype

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Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell prototype

Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell prototype

Enlarge Photo
Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell prototype

Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell prototype

Enlarge Photo
Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell prototype

Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell prototype

Enlarge Photo

In contrast, Daimler appears to have found itself in the opposite situation: its production is weighted towards heavy, powerful, and not particularly fuel-efficient luxury vehicles, so it must electrify its lineup to meet fuel efficiency and ZEV requirements in multiple lucrative markets around the world.

It would probably take two model cycles for Daimler to scale its fuel-cell production to materially improve its position.

And that is simply far too long a timeframe for the company. Consequently, batteries have inevitably become its core path forward.

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