78-Percent of Auto Execs See Brighter Future For Hydrogen Vehicles Over Battery Electrics

From now through 2025, automotive executives see battery electric vehicles as the top global trend, but more than three-quarters of them predict BEVs being overshadowed by hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles in the long run.

This is according to KPMG’s Global Automotive Executive Survey 2017, which found that of almost 1,000 senior executives interviewed, 78-percent believe fuel cell electric vehicles “will be the golden bullet of electric mobility.” The problem of setting up a user-friendly charging infrastructure lead 62-percent of the surveyed executives to believe that BEVs will fail, KMPG said.

KPMG analyzed the survey and found that automotive executives see that FCVs can solve the recharging and infrastructure that BEVs face today. Refueling a FCV can be quickly at a traditional gas station, which makes the typical BEV charging time of 25 to 35 minutes seem unreasonable.

The study does acknowledge that FCV technology is “far from maturity,” and faces unsolved challenges like the “cooling of hydrogen or the safe storage in a car.”

KPMG interviewed almost 1,000 senior executives from global automakers, suppliers, dealers, financial services providers, car rental companies, mobility services providers, and information and communication technology companies. More than 2,400 consumers from around the world were also surveyed for comparison to the opinions of auto executives.

Regulatory pressure in key global markets, which increased after the “dirty diesel” emissions scandal broke, along with publicity generated by Tesla Motors, are reasons why BEVs have entered consumers’ mindsets, according to the consulting agency. Major automakers are working hard to keep up with these trends, and for the first time are thinking beyond manufacturing the BEVs through analyzing the charging infrastructure and power supply.

Today the Toyota Mirai is the best-selling FCV. Last month's total for the California car: 116 sales. Sales for all battery electrics in December 2016: 13,077.

Today the Toyota Mirai is the best-selling FCV. Last month’s total for the California car: 116 sales. Sales for all battery electrics in December 2016: 13,077.

KPMG sees the auto industry being “lost in translation between evolutionary, revolutionary and disruptive key trends that all need to be managed at the same time.”

Traditional combustion engines are still considered technologically relevant but socially unacceptable, according to the study.

For the key automotive trends through 2025, BEVs are the top trend for 2017, followed by connectivity and digitalization, FCVs at third place, and hybrid electric vehicles in fourth place. Mobility as a service and carsharing came in at number eight, and autonomous vehicles finished in ninth place.

SEE ALSO:  Is Toyota Thinking Twice About Fuel Cell Vehicles?

One of the more interesting finding in the survey is that most automotive executives see car ownership going away soon, which could bolster support for mobility services and autonomous vehicles. In the study, 59 percent of auto executives and 35 percent of consumers surveyed think that more than half of all car owners will no longer want to own a car by 2025.

Diesel technology won’t be going away entirely, said the study. More than half of the surveyed executives believe that “diesel will be the first traditional powertrain technology to vanish from manufacturers’ portfolios.” However, diesel will remain an option over the next few years by vehicle manufacturers in India and for long-distance heavy truck engines.

Strong regulatory restrictions, which are increasing to the next phase globally by about 2025, are the key driver for BEVs to move up on the ranking. In the 2015 KPMG study, BEVs ranked number nine, moving up to number one this year.

Success of BEVs depend on infrastructure and application. To KPMG, that means, “Coordinated actions for infrastructure set-up, and a clear distinction of reasonable application areas (e.g. urban, long-distance) needs to be established.”

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Investment into fast charging by automakers, such as Tesla’s Supercharger network, will help stabilize BEVs. Longer range BEVs such as the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3 will aid the cause, as well.

But it’s not enough to win over consumers around the world to embrace BEVs at a large scale.

The majority of consumers do not yet embrace the concept of electric vehicles because the most essential requirements for electric vehicles are not met yet,” the study said.

“Execs are hesitant regarding cooperation and unsolved infrastructure challenges. The reason for execs to believe in fuel cells may be their strong attachment to the existing infrastructures and traditional vehicle applications,” said John Leech, KPMG’s Automotive Leader UK, in the study.

The KPMG study seems to imply that hydrogen can be added to existing retail gasoline fueling stations, but that hasn’t been the case yet. Hydrogen stations being built in California and other locations are standalone refueling stations with their own storage tanks and fueling pumps. Construction can be expensive, estimated to be $1 to $2 million per hydrogen station, while the cost of electric vehicle chargers has been declining. Getting the hydrogen to the storage tanks also presents its own host of challenges, such as building pipelines or delivering the fuel through trucks with pressurized storage tanks.

Automaker have forged alliances in the past few years to jointly develop fuel cell vehicle technologies and to support hydrogen refueling networks in Europe, the U.S., and Japan. But the numbers of sold FCVs and hydrogen stations are still very slight.


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