Is Toyota's hydrogen fuel-cell fervor foolish, or foresighted? (with charts) Page 3

2017 Toyota Mirai

2017 Toyota Mirai

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The majority of early Model S buyers—price-insensitive early adopters—chose higher-range vehicles, after all.

Doubling the battery size in the scenarios above would add roughly $5,000 of cost.

I strongly suspect that if a consumer were given the choice between a 200-mile electric vehicle at $30,000 and a 400-mile electric vehicle at $35,000, they would take the one with more range, if they could at all afford it.

I certainly would—although whether real-world buyers would consider a hydrogen-fueled vehicle an "electric car" remains very much an open question.

So, how does the 400-mile battery vs. 400-mile fuel cell comparison look?  

Batteries vs. fuel cells: Round 2

Cost projections for 400-mile battery pack vs 400-mile fuel cell car [chart: Matthew Klippenstein]

Cost projections for 400-mile battery pack vs 400-mile fuel cell car [chart: Matthew Klippenstein]

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[EDITOR'S NOTE: As readers pointed out in our Comments, the original version of the graphic above was one of three that needed some work. We have now replaced it, and we apologize for the errors.]

The Department of Energy projects that mass-produced fuel cell propulsion will be cheaper than mass-produced battery propulsion.

In the 2020 cost target scenario, the fuel cell is more than $6,000 cheaper. With hydrogen at $4 per kilogram and a car that travel 50 miles per kg, it would take 75,000 miles of driving before fuel-cell vehicle ownership became more expensive—and that assumes free electricity.

Even if a second fuel-cell system were added (a much less cost-effective manner of boosting power than enlarging or redesigning the fuel-cell stack), the fuel cell vehicle would still have an up-front cost advantage of almost $3,000.

In the utopian scenario, fuel-cell propulsion proves $2,400 cheaper upfront than the battery option. Add a second fuel-cell system, and the upfront costs are even.

Did anyone see that coming? I didn't.

Yoshikazu Tanaka, the chief engineer of the Mirai, and an outspoken electric-car skeptic may not want to create a social-media profile just yet, however.

Fuel cells would only enjoy this price advantage if production scaled up dramatically—which is exactly what Toyota is trying to do.

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