2015 is New Magic Date for Fuel Cell Vehicles

Wishing upon a star or throwing a coin in a well might make dreams come true, but when it comes to fuel cell vehicles, auto industry executives are hoping that chanting in unison will turn hopes into reality. The mantra from execs: “Fuel cell cars for sale by 2015.”

In the past few weeks, Ford, Toyota and Daimler have expressed and reiterated their commitment to bringing hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles to market in six years, with Honda pushing out its target date to 2018.

The US Department of Energy announced that it will be pulling the plug on fuel cell research and development—and California is threatening to slash its spending on building a hydrogen refueling infrastructure—but automakers are holding firm to their new timeline for hydrogen.


  • Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche told Speigel Magazine in March that annual production of fuel cell cars will need to reach 100,000 units to be considered commercially viable, and that vehicle prices could be comparable to “premium” gasoline cars by around 2015.

  • Toyota’s spokesperson John Hanson said in June, “Toyota is planning to go ahead with its program in certain world markets by 2015, if not sooner.”

  • Speaking last week at the Edison Electric Institute conference, Ford CEO Alan Mulally saw 2015 as the date that fuel cell cars would go on sale. Mulally hedged when reminded of the US government’s cut in fuel cell research funding. “That pushes out the timeframe for commercialization,” he said.
  • At a recent fuel cell conference, GM’s Larry Burns also agreed with the 2015 dates, commenting: “General Motors is committed to developing a hydrogen fuel cell car despite its bankruptcy and a huge cut in (federal) research dollars for the zero-emission (hydrogen) vehicle.” Dave Barthmuss, GM’s West Coast regional PR manager, said last week, “We don’t need any more breakthroughs to bring the [fuel cell] cars into the commercial market by 2015.”
  • Honda’s Steve Ellis, manager of fuel cell vehicle sales and marketing, told an audience at a National Hydrogen Association webinar this month that Honda is looking at 2018 as its magic date, but is already producing the FCX Clarity on a regular production line.

Waiting for a Miracle?

Honda Clarity FCX

Honda is building its FCX Clarity on a regular production line.

Despite repeated statements pinpointing 2015 for delivering fuel cell cars, automakers acknowledge two major hurdles in reaching that goal: high costs and lack of infrastructure. As Andreas Truckenbrodt, chief executive of the Automotive Fuel Cell Cooperation—a Daimler-Ford venture to advance fuel cells for vehicles—said, “Fuel cells work fine. The number one focus is now on cost reductions, and we know how to get there. Do you really think we would be spending billions if we were waiting for a miracle?”

But a miracle might be required for producing and selling fuel cell cars in any significant numbers by 2015. The hydrogen-refueling infrastructure remains a distant, and extremely expensive, dream.  The Federal government and the State of California are both wavering on previous commitments to spend the required large sums of money on building hydrogen stations—begging the question of who will buy fuel cell cars without knowing where they will find fuel. If the US commitment to this technology wavers, auto companies may shift their focus to more markets, such as Japan and Germany.

Most industry analysts do not expect commercialization of fuel cell cars until 2020, at the earliest.  As the move to plug-in cars—plug-in hybrids and electric cars—builds momentum, carmakers that have heavily invested in fuel cell technologies will feel increased pressure to justify the expense and convince their stakeholders that fuel cells are coming sooner than expected.

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  • Shines

    I saw a TV commercial over the weekend showing how abundant hydrogen for fuel can be because the earth has plenty of water. It has been stated plenty of times that it the amount of energy needed to extract the hydrogen from water is equal to the abount of energy in the extracted hydrogen which means the extraction is a waste of time.
    Others point out that hydrogen can be extracted form natual gas – but there we are back to a non-renewable resource – besides which using the natual gas as the fuel would be much cheaper than converting it to hydrogen to be used in a fuel cell vehicle.
    Unless the fuel cell researchers believe they’ll be able to get 100 mile per litre of H – I don’t see it. Sorry to be such a pessimist, but I think EVs have the better future.

  • DC

    Two things to keep in mind here. The date for these vehicles is, once again, place somewhere in the vaguely near, but still distant future(IE never). The problem with fuel-cell vehicles is not techincal, not even one of desireabilty. The underlying problem with them is one that sometimes gets mentioned, but more often is simply ignored. If our civilization had a clear surplus of energy, that is to say fusion plants all over the place, very large scale solar grids, even exotic tech like space-based solar, then fuel-cell vehicles would make some sort of sense. But, or course, we dont. We live in a world run largely on dirty fossil fuels that are a enviormental and economic disaster. Since we posses neither a clear energy surplus, nor are we likely to(ever) with the current energy system in place, FC vehicles simply cannot be justifed. Or put another way, there going about it bass-ackwards. Mature Fusion-Hydrogen economy first, FC vehicles, second. PEV at least can be justifed now. FC vehicles of course, need to pass a very basic cost-benefit test. Does it take less energycost then the alternative, it is clear they dont. Which is why Bush, GM And the oil industry think fuel-cells are great.

  • LizR

    There was a time that people scoffed at the ideas of airplanes, TV sets, personal computers, cancer treatments, organ transplants. The Spanish government backed Columbus even when most thought he would sail off the end of the earth. Thousands of scientists and engineers work on fuel cells and hydrogen. They know that the technology is energy efficient, environmentally friendly, sustainable and will produce vehicles that millions of people will want to buy. The people who say it can’t be done should get out of the way of the people who are doing it.

  • witchking

    By 2015 there will be electric cars with batteries with the range of 400-600 miles, and EVS with 100mile range would become very affordable.

    Imagine a 18 wheeler electric truck, theirs a lot of room to place batteries in it to give it a huge electric range.

  • Familyman

    Are you commenting on some new battery technology? I believe if we put that many batteries in a 18 wheeler it couldn’t carry anything else.

  • Mr. Fusion

    It’s a good thing Karl Benz and Henry Ford didn’t put a stop to their inventions because there were no gas stations.

  • manti

    It is great to have peope working on this new technology, just keep in mind that not long ago we did not have electricity, trains, or cars, all started from nothing and took some time to mature. This is another stepping stone for the human race, if we get it right or not history will tell. Green hydrogen at the moment can be obtained only with the help of fotovoltaic pannels installed at the ecuator (desert regions), there we have the moust efficency or to put it another way the moust energy for the $. Of course it is expensive and complicated but if i learned my lesson well in history class, the car was very expensive at the beggining, also the steam train and all the technology that we take for granted in our daily lifes, that doesent mean that we must not try to do it.

  • Q

    I disagree with most of the widespread reasons for the non-adoption of hydrogen. I think it’s cost and PR. Say hydrogen and people think either the Hindenburg or the Atomic bomb. Since the Hindenburg had a “paint issue” that caused the problems and the bomb uses relatively insignificant amounts with a LOT of help, these are actually just perception, like so many other things. I also think that 2015 is an extremely aggressive date. I am sure that once there are some of the cars using it, the “oil” companies will have a refueling station on one of their sites, in a couple of areas, far enough apart to hedge their bet. The cars will be more expensive at first, but will, in later models, have more flexibility than pure electrics, and replace ICE in the hybrids. Eventually, it will make sense to have a choice when the infrastructure catches up. Electric, for commuter and smaller vehicles…Hydrogen for SUVs, commercial trucks and planes. The airlines can use Hydrogen directly in cumbustion, while cars and big-rigs can use it with fuel cells. Since MIT and others are resolving the cost-related issues, I’m confident that once the “energy” companies realize that we’re getting closer to having individuals provide their own power, that they’ll make an infrastructure to keep us paying our daily dues.

  • bwagsbags

    Fuel Cell vehicles are something car companies like to talk about to get themselves eco-cred without actually having to develop a product.

    I’ve been to several conferences about alternative energy and know people involved in fuel cell research. The first problem is that producing hydrogen is significantly more expensive than gasoline, even at $3/gallon. The bigger problem is that fuel cells are wildly more expensive than ICEs, and are likely to remain so for over a decade. Then you have the long, arduous process of building infrastructure.

    The hydrogen economy deserves research and may be used in the future, but it’s far from right around the corner. PHEVs are a more realistic near term goal but a cost effective 100 mile range is unlikely given the enormous battery cost. A recent Carnegie-Mellon study discusses this point.

  • Dave – Phoenix

    It does matter what date the automakers set.

    Until there is a Hydrogen infrastructure do the deliver the fuel, consumers will not be interested…

    So the question now is, have the fuel companies set a date to have an infrastructure in place?????

  • ACAGal

    The infrastructure for delivering “clean” Hydrogen is necessary, but there are at least two fueling stations in our area.

    I have ridden in several hydrogen cars, and liked most of them very much (the one I didn’t like, had planned on children in the backseat-not giving me headroom. I’m the shortest person in our family). I liked the GM Equinox and Sequel a lot.

    When it comes to refueling, that is also a problem for the Natural Gas taxies. I’ve heard the drivers complain that there are only two natural gas fueling stations between my general area and the closest airport, which makes refueling inconvenient for them. To me, seems natural gas and hydrogen should rate evenly if refueling were the issue.

  • Shines

    Let’s see – we can turn solar and wind energy into electricity to be used to convert water to hydrogen, then we have to bottle the hydrogen under extreme pressure, then we have to transport it to fuel stations, then we put it in the vehicle fuel tanks – which must be large and heavy and then we can drive for 120 – 300 miles converting the hydrogen back to water and refuel. Or we can turn solar and wind energy into electricity and supply the grid and then charge our vehicle batteries (completely skipping fuel stations and the cost of a new hydrogen infrastructure) and then drive 120 miles or longer. It is cool/romantic/idealistic to think we can take the most basic element with 1 proton and 1 electron and use it for fuel because it burns so efficiently and doesn’t pollute or produce greenhouse gasses. I don’t want progress to stop – I understand history; airplanes; trains; the lightbulb etc. Especially if the engineers come up with hydrogen technology that will provide efficient transportation. But I am not hearing that from any of the developers. In fact you can compare hydrogen to battery technology – the Honda Clarity $500000.00 to the Tesla roadster $120000.00

  • Tom Me

    Fuel cell vehicles are basically electric vehicles (EV) where the fuel cell stack provides electricity for the motors. There’s often batteries on board, to handle peak energy demands with a smaller (cheaper) fuel cell.

    So.. the main advantage I see over a pure battery EV is the fuel cell vehicle allows for refueling in minutes, instead of recharging in hours. How big a deal is this? Would you rather plug into electricity when you park over night, OR, make extra effort to go to a refueling station, fill up.. or have the equipment installed at home to make hydrogen from natural gas? Personally, I love the idea of just plugging in overnight, and avoiding refueling stations. Others might need to refuel quickly. What the market really wants will be hard to answer until they ship the damn thing, and the market can try it out.

    In any event, I’m not sure this debate of fuel cell or no fuel cell is useful anymore. You want more information, you have to ship product and see. The market so far is saying yes to battery EVs. It can’t say much about fuel cell vehicles because that has not been offered beyond a theoretical discussion. If a company believes in fuel cells, then put that into production. If that makes a company too queasy, then stick with battery EVs. But, I’m tired of this debate of this technology or that. Put up or shut up.

  • wooac

    Affordable fuel cell vehicles will appear about the same time as fusion generated electric power. Both technologies have great potential but will forever be the near future.

  • John Bailo

    It’s not a “distant dream”. We already have the infrastructure to produce enough H2 for 110 million vehicles…the entire American fleet of cars.

    The only issue is bringing it to the last mile…the pump. This is simple to do as California demostrates each and every day.

    Don’t let them fool you. H2 is the best fuel — clean, high energy and easily fit into the current car architecture. Buy a hybrid? Sure, you can put it in the garage next to your 8-track player in 2015.

  • Robcares

    The one thing none of you have mentioned in regard to Hydrogen is; if the oil companies don’t want to deal with or compete with the NEW Hydrogen economy, they’ll just drop the price of gasoline long enough to defeat the effort. The oil companies have already shone this technique over the last two years. Remember how every one started really talking about alternatives to gas when the price reached $4.50 a gal.? The talk was, as you may remember, that ethanol could then compete in the market place. Now the price of gas has dropped to below $3.00 a gal. and just about every one that got on the Ethanol band wagon are now bankrupt. Giant new processing plants all over this country are now vacant and every one is gone. I believe that big oil will decide whether we see Hydrogen fuel cell cars or not, and I’m betting not. It makes more sense right now to develop an NG infrastructure for the near future and keep working on all of the other ideas out there. Hydrogen still has at least three deal breakers that are at present stopping it from coming to market; supply, distribution, and vehicle storage/efficiency. When you consider, it takes the major auto manufacturers at least three years to bring a conventional car to market, five really starts to look very much pie in the sky, sorry to harsh your mellow.

  • DC

    To repeat…..FC as vehicles like any alternative to ICE have to be considered on merits other than just are they in principle better than ICE’s. If you consider them in insolation as a means of motive power in vehicles, there just fine. Again, without a large, readily available supply of surplus energy(and ideally cheap), hydrogen production at the required levels would be impractical, this has been widely commented on and is not in dispute. The world was lead into its current dirty oil additction by GM and the oil companies that had about zero concern for the long-term consequences of what they were pushing. I would like to think that in the last 100 years, we have at least gained to foresight to make a better choice this time around. The infastructure problem for H2 is even more pronounced. An entire network would have to be constructed, there is no existing capacity or equipment that H2 can “plug-in” to. It would be imensely expensive to create and would all have to be built from the ground up, and in reality totally un-necessary in the first place. PEV otoh , can be readily adapted, the backbone infastructure allready exists to run a PEV fleet. now, your useing it to power the PC your useing to read this. The proponents of a H2 network(i dont think for one moment there serious) seem to want the replace the unwiedly, dirty, expensive oil network with a cleaner, somewhat more efficent?, unwieldly, expensive H2 network. IOW there end goal is to re-create the inefficent, wasteful system that exists now, with one that is slightly better, however at immense cost both in money, energy and materials. Even in the long run its doubtful we would ever see a payback, much less come out ahead. It would be far simpler, and much less costly to electrify the worlds transport systems. Then you must consider the efficency factor of EV vs FC. I have seen differeing opinions, but most studies seem to agree FC are(on average) at least 100% more efficent than ICE, about 25% net vs 10-16% for ICE, -and of course non-polluting at source. EV, as im sure everyone here knows are vastly more efficent, on the order of 80+ %. and again, do not pollute at source. It is a no-brainer which direction is the better one. For R+D, test fleets etc, concept cars niche applications etc, fine. But to push them as a major contender to replace the ICE in bulk is a dubious notion at best. I honestly wish that was not the case, but it is. As it is, everyone bitches about the high cost of potential EV vehicles, FC are far more costly, not to mention, complex. As an example of how we love to pursue dumb-ass ideas, there are a number a H2 test buses around the world, Its hard to find exact numbers but the vehicles are very expensive, to build and run. They will never be truely pratical for a number of reasons. Why not just put…electric buses via overhead wires, or even better yet, return to trollys. Both these simple altenatives…exist now, there inexpensive, are simple, and above all they work, no exotic next gen, special equipment required. Must be our compulsive need to re-invent the wheel, or replace simpler proven ideas with complex costly and unproven ones.

    H2 is to my one the same level as the Bio-fuel, flex-fuel scammers. Its merely seeks to replace one investment in the wrrong philosphy with an equally bad one The US, in a rare bout of wisdom cancelled research into FC vehicles. I suspect the reasons were more economic and political rather then scientific or technical. I came across a recent 2006 study on this very topic of the H2 economy. Its an interesting read


  • 9691

    @ Robcares. Your line of thought is flawed. If direction is taken toward battery powered vehicles charged from the grid, than big oil has absolutely no future since we won’t need them. Slowly with bigger oil consumers vanishing, the oil companies will go with the dinosaurs, unless they provide the fuel for the future infrastructure. Therefore they have no interest in killing the hydrogen idea. It actually looks like they would be more interested and are trying to attack the accu-battery, plug in concept in favor of the H2 one. Think Arnold S. in California.

    To the guy who said that you can put your hybrid in 2015 in your garage next to your 8-track player, you got to be joking right?

  • Mr. Fusion

    EV, Hydrogen, Fusion…who cares?! It’s all for the better.
    What will be will be. Nobody knows for sure what, but at least we have a CHOICE. And a choice, my friends, is a commodity many don’t have.

  • Robcares

    @9691, My comments are strictly in regards to Hydrogen Fuel cell technology. The only reason that big oil would support HFC tech. would be that oil would be a source for the H2. Since producing H2 would cost more in time and energy, gas would always be cheaper. Some here have suggested NG as a source for H2, but what’s the point when it takes energy to separate the component gasses which would always be more costly then the source, that would it self be a clean burning alternative to gas. I fully support Ev’s and feel that once we move to a next generation battery technology, which will come at some point, we can truly move away from our dependence on fossil fuels. In the interim, NG is clean to burn, domestic supplies are massive, and as in the Honda NG, can be refueled in your own garage. The infrastructure for delivery is still a problem, but I believe far less than H2. lastly, retrofitting ICE’s to operate on NG is off of the shelf and reasonably simple to do.

  • jacob br.

    There already were affordable EVS with 100 mile range. They were the GM EV-1, and the RAV4-EV…. They used powerful NiMH batteries, but GM sold the patent of the batteries to Chevron, who sued Toyota and is hindering the development of powerful EVs. Carmakers and oil companies are interested in hydrogen because hydrogen can be sold by oil companies… electricity can’t. The patent for the NiMH batteries goes public in 2015… are the oil and auto companies are hoping to have spent enough money transforming the infrastructure to hydrogen cars, that it becomes the ‘alternative vehicle’ of choice. If anyone is interested in learning more, I’d suggset the book “Two Cents per Mile” by Nevres Cefo, which you can find on Amazon….

  • Samie

    Interesting comments Jacob Br.

    Did not know the NiMH battery patent runs out in 2015. I will have to checkout “Two Cents per Mile” by Nevres Cefo, thanks. I thought GM did not have full rights to the patient but was developed through Cosby, a company that Chevron invested in & acquired the patent that way. I could be wrong & don’t remember the details.

    It is interesting to see some go ahead w/ this. Who will be the first consumer? I bet heavy lobbing to convert government fleets into Hydrogen will happen along w/ pressuring automakers to build at least one vehicle w/ hydrogen to their line-up. Would not be surprised to hear lots of talk of Hydrogen in the next energy bill. I bet if McCain had gotten elected the CNG, E85, & Hydrogen crowds would have loved it!

    Anyways can’t add anymore then what was said. Shines and DC’s comments are well said.

  • Michael Robinson

    Hydrogen is not a big oil ploy and batteries are over hyped.

    The reality is, gasoline is a source of energy separate from
    electricity. If all cars are converted to be EVs assuming, which
    we should not frankly, that batteries get 100x better at storing
    energy and recharge fast in the future, there will still be an
    energy crisis. Most electricity in the U.S. is produced using
    dirty coal. Hydrogen can be collected without using electricity
    via direct solar to hydrogen and algae under the right conditions.

    Batteries should be better by now, but you are lucky if a car without trunk space can go 40-100 miles on batteries alone. Not 120, not 200, not 300, and certainly not further than 300 miles. NASA thinks that the best batteries may use a nickel hydrogen chemistry. The reality is, plug in SUVs cost $10k more than standard hybrids and tend to raise gas mileage by only 11 mpg.
    They don’t save you from burning gasoline, especially when it is
    cold and the engine has to run to heat the batteries or the
    catalytic converter. Hopefully by 2015, battery love will wear out
    and people will be in the mood for fuel cell cars and hydrogen
    refueling. Perhaps by then, hydrnol will be advanced enough to
    solve the hydrogen distribution problem.

    Wind power alone could be used to run electrolyzers to produce enough hydrogen for all the vehicles in the U.S. and there would
    be a hydrogen surplus that could be used to produce grid power.

    50% of people don’t have a place to plug in at night. The infrastructure for plug-in cars does not exist. If people start
    looking for outlets in parking lots, they are going to anger
    business owners and there are going to be lawsuits. The grid
    cannot handle people plugging in their cars in the middle of the
    day, but that is what people will try to do.

  • Anonymous


  • coyone

    It currently costs the Saudi’s about $2.00 a barrel to produce their oil. Market price is in the range of $80.00. In 1972 the production cost was around $1.00 a barrel and it sold for about $15.00.

    During the oil embargo of 1972, a British news crew filmed an interview near one of the Saudi Arabian oil fields. Their question of the Saudi representative was; “in view of the fact that the U.S. has the equivalent in coal of Saudi oil and has a process for turning this coal into a liquid fuel for automobiles, aren’t you afraid of loosing sales for your oil?”. His reply was quite simple. “They can’t make fuel from coal for $15.00 a barrel”. If they ever get close we’ll just lower the price.

    In the absence of a technological breakthrough on the order of cold fusion or a thermochemical reactor, fossil fuels will power the world not only for our lifetimes but also our grand children’s. If you are worried about the use of those “filthy” fossil fuels you should participate in an all out effort to develop a zero emissions ICE. Most objective observers would agree that since ICE technology is far more mature, the path to a zero emissions ICE is much shorter that the 300 mile EV or FCV.

    Also, there is this common misunderstanding about oil being a finite commodity. That all oil was created long ago and it will eventually dry up. Not true. Oil creation continues today. Think I have lost my mind? Request it and I will provide a link to a vault of documentation on the subject.

  • wildwing

    EV’s are a bad idea it take the same to make the hydrogen as if you charge a battery. with fuel cell you don’t have battery thermo runway. The navy worry about a battery the size 6in X 3in X 3in and that will take out a h-60.