Hydrogen Cars Are Here — What Now?

The alternative fuel cars have hit the market, but a NACS survey finds that consumer education is lacking.
July 22, 2014

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – To the 48% of consumers who think that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are at least a decade away, the auto industry is saying, “Welcome to the year 2024!”

In May, Hyundai Motor Co. began leasing a fuel-cell version of its Tucson sport-utility vehicle in California — the first mass- produced fuel cell vehicle to be sold in the United States. Other automakers plan to introduce their vehicles beginning next year.

To support the sale — or leasing — of these new vehicles, the California Energy Commission also announced in May that that it is investing $46.6 million to help develop the hydrogen fueling infrastructure in the state.  This latest investment will add 28 stations to the nine in operation and 17 under development in the state, according to USA Today.

The promise of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles has been touted for years, and was a big focus at this year’s Washington Auto Show. From the retail perspective, one of the biggest advantages of hydrogen fueling is that it is very similar to current fueling procedures. Customers fill up their vehicles in a 3- to 4-minute experience that mimics traditional fueling. NACS also has just released a video from the Washington Auto Show that looks at the promise of hydrogen fueling.

It is expected that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will soon hit the market in several other countries. Toyota announced that it will sell hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in Japan in early 2015, and will expand sales to the United States and Europe later in the year.

So with vehicles hitting the market and the infrastructure being developed, will consumers buy hydrogen fuel cell vehicles? It may take a bit of education given the results of a July 2014 NACS consumer survey. Nearly half of consumers surveyed by NACS (48%) say that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are at least a decade away (42%) or will never reach the market (6%). Meanwhile, 36% say that they could hit the market in the next year or two and only 15% say that the vehicles are currently available.

While California has been the focus of developing a U.S. market for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, consumers in the West were no more likely to say that they are currently available, with 46% saying that that these vehicles would either never hit the market (5%) or are at least a decade away (41%).

“The roll-out plan for vehicles and refueling infrastructure is a coordinated strategy to ensure that fuel is available when and where the vehicles are introduced,” said NACS Vice President of Government Relations John Eichberger, who also serves as executive director of the Fuels Institute. “As the market develops, the experience gained in these initial California markets will inform market participants concerning the feasibility of the hydrogen market and facilitate the expansion of the service area to more consumers.”

NACS Magazine will explore hydrogen as a fueling option in the September Pre-NACS Show issue.

You can also learn more about he performance, power, range and benefits of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, as well as California’s initiative to develop a hydrogen fueling station network and the outlook for fuel cell vehicles in the United States, at the upcoming NACS Show in the “Fuels Outlook: Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles” educational session.