Most major automakers have nailed their colors to their mast when it comes to alternative powertrains for the future.

For Volkswagen, that's electric vehicles at its most extreme. Japanese automaker Toyota has taken a different path, and is hedging its bets on hydrogen fuel cells.

Few share Toyota's vision and VW has just added itself to the list of non-believers.

Volkswagen Group Japan President Shigeru Shoji has told reporters that fuel-cell vehicles may struggle to catch on beyond Japan's borders.

That's partly, reports Bloomberg, down to the huge subsidies Japan will offer on fuel-cell cars, topping 3 million Yen ($28,500) in some cases. Few other countries will be able to match those subsidies, says Shoji.

He fears a situation that Japan is already seeing with its kei-jidosha class of small cars--vehicles that only really sell in Japan and make little to no money for automakers outside the country. It's dubbed "Galapagos syndrome", after the Pacific archipelago's unique flora and fauna that thrive only on those islands.

Shoji adds that fuel-cell cars may even be impractical in Japan itself, due to the difficulties and expense of setting up a hydrogen refueling network.

ALSO READ: 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf Vs. Golf TDI: Back-To-Back Test Drive

In contrast, electric vehicles are already selling in respectable numbers, and while global recharging networks are not yet up to full strength, they can be easily recharged by anyone who has access to a power outlet.

Volkswagen currently offers two dedicated battery electric vehicles, the e-Up minicar and e-Golf compact. Each has drawn praise for its driving characteristics and efficiency, and VW CEO Martin Winterkorn has said the company could produce another 40 hybrid or electric models if demand grew large enough.

Volkswagen e-Up test drive, Berlin, March 2014

Volkswagen e-Up test drive, Berlin, March 2014

The quality of the cars themselves will ultimately be the deciding factor, though. Automakers need to come up with "new products, better products," according to Thanh Ha Pham, a Tokyo-based analyst.

He downplays the nationalistic bias of certain alternative powertrains hinted at by Shoji.

Dion Corbett, a Tokyo-based spokesman for Toyota, admits that fuel-cell vehicles currently need government support and may not be commonplace for a couple of years, but says the technology is one of the best ways to reduce Japan's carbon emissions.

The country is still reeling from the energy and environmental disasters caused by 2011's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown, which has caused skepticism of low-carbon nuclear power.

That puts battery-powered vehicles on the back foot, but they've had quite a head-start on the market compared to hydrogen.

In the meantime, well, don't expect many hydrogen fuel-cell cars from Volkswagen...


Follow GreenCarReports on FacebookTwitter and Google+