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Published on September 15th, 2014 | by Steve Hanley


Volkswagen: Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars Hopeless Outside Of Japan

September 15th, 2014 by  

Editor’s Note: A number of auto company execs have stated that hydrogen fuel cell cars are hopeless compared to battery-electrics (for fundamental economic and efficiency reasons, not even to mention their environmental downsides), such as: Tesla’s Elon Musk, Renault-Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn, and Volkswagen’s Rudolf Krebs. Nonetheless, a couple of auto companies still act like hydrogen fuel cell cars have a future (and I do think “act” is the correct term there). With a government subsidy of ~$30,000, we may actually see some sales of hydrogen fuel cell cars in Japan, but what other countries are going to provide insane subsidies for inherently inferior technology? Shigeru Shoji, President of Volkswagen Group Japan, recently put out some harsh comments for any fans or manufacturers of hydrogen fuel cell cars. Steve has more details in the GAS2 repost below.

Hydrogen Cars Will Struggle Outside Of Japan


Shigeru Shoji, President of Volkswagen Group Japan, says that hydrogen cars will only be successful in the Japanese market because of extensive government subsidies – up to $28,500 per fuel cell vehicle – and assistance in building the infrastructure needed for hydrogen distribution. He believes hydrogen cars will not make it in the marketplace in other countries where the government is not willing to make such major investments to support a hydrogen economy.

Shoji recently told Bloomberg News that the commitment by Toyota and the Japanese government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to hydrogen powered fuel cell vehicles is just another example of “the Galapagos Syndrome” that plagues Japanese manufacturing – a pattern of building products that are only suitable for the Japanese home market.

Such stinging criticism drew a rebuke from Toyota. Company spokesman Dion Corbett says such massive support from the government is necessary to get hydrogen technology out of the laboratory and into the marketplace. He believes hydrogen will have a bright future not only in Japan but in Europe, California and the East Coast of America as well. Ford CEO Alan Mulally told Bloomberg recently to expect more hydrogen cars in the coming years.

In the meantime, Volkswagen is keeping an eye on Toyota and the hydrogen economy in Japan. VW Japan spokesperson Yasuo Maruta says it’s goal is to be no more than 3 years behind in fuel cell technology in case hydrogen power becomes more viable. However, even Toyota admits that a full tank of hydrogen fuel will cost $50 to begin with, though may eventually settle in the $30 range. That’s for 300 miles of driving range, mind you, and only in areas (i.e. SoCal) where hydrogen fuel stations are.

While both hydrogen and battery advocates claim their system is the most environmentally friendly, the truth is that both rely heavily on fracking. Why? Because hydrogen is made primarily from natural gas and most electricity is generated by natural gas, at least in the US.  And fracking is what makes the abundance of low cost natural gas we enjoy at the moment possible. The road to emissions free driving that doesn’t pollute the environment is an illusion if fracking is its foundation.

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About the Author

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Rhode Island. You can follow him on Google + and on Twitter.

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