2015 Nissan Leaf
In the auto industry, there's a growing divide among carmakers on the most viable form of electrified vehicle.
Some support battery-electric cars, while others believe that hydrogen fuel-cell cars are the way to go.
Toyota has made fuel cells its zero-emission technology of choice; Honda and Hyundai will also offer hydrogen cars, though those two companies are hedging their bets and will also introduce new battery-powered models.
But as the maker of the Leaf, the world's bestselling electric car, Nissan is on the opposite side of the debate. It is "quite optimistic" about their future, according to one executive.
The carmaker's point of view was offered recently by vice chairman Toshiyuki Shiga, who told The Japan Times (via Charged EVs) that Nissan will continue to focus on electric cars, and won't "rush" into developing a fuel-cell vehicle.
2015 Nissan Leaf
Worldwide electric-car sales are still just a drop in the bucket compared to those of internal-combustion cars. But Shiga said Nissan is "quite optimistic" about the continued growth of the segment.
In contrast, the company views fuel cells as viable only in the very long term. Shiga said that the difficulty of building a comprehensive hydrogen fueling infrastructure makes battery-electric cars the better choice.
The Renault-Nissan Alliance is one member of a three-way partnership to develop hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles that also includes Daimler, parent of Mercedes-Benz, and Ford.
Nissan's Shiga claimed the inherently-higher cost of building hydrogen stations will make that technology reliant on government subsidies for some time.
With hydrogen fueling stations costing upwards of $1 million apiece, private startups are looking to the government--and carmakers--to provide initial funding. They hope there will eventually be sufficient demand for the hydrogen to make distributing it profitable.
Nissan works with governments in different countries, of course, in its continuing effort to expand the networks of DC fast-charging stations in the markets where it sells electric cars.
Nissan e-NV200 - First Drive, June 2014
However, the far lower cost of charging stations, along with existing electricity infrastructure, would seem to make that task somewhat easier for battery-electric cars than it may be for hydrogen.
Even with those advantages, selling electric cars has hardly been a walk in the park.
Nissan and Renault together recently sold their 200,000th electric car, but CEO Carlos Ghosn had predicted that by this time, capacity for the Nissan Leaf alone could account for up to 250,000 units per year.
That underscores the many challenges of selling plug-in cars to a skeptical public; Hyundai, Honda, and Toyota will likely face similar challenges as they offer fuel cells as an alternative.