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Fuel-cell powered vehicles are likely to become the next big thing in non-gas powered vehicles, and today Nissan, Daimler and Ford announced that they are joining forces on creating a new common fuel-cell system that will be put to use in what the companies call “the world’s first affordable, mass-market” fuel-cell vehicle.
Given how a number of states have been following California’s lead in recent years, including the likes of Maryland, New Jersey and New York, there’s a distinct possibility we could see the expansion of zealous zero emissions requirements.
Recently, the California Air Resources Board approved a measure that requires some 15.4 percent of all vehicles sold in the Golden State to be Zero emissions compliant by 2025 (in other words be plug-in hybrids, pure EVs or fuel-cell machines).
California’s zero emissions mandate was first introduced in 1990, though in recent years, the standards have been significantly tightened. For automakers, the issue presents a bit of a dilema, especially if other states choose to follow California’s ruling.
As it stands, buyers haven’t exactly warmed up to the idea of plug-in hybrids or pure EVs, despite the media hype they generate. Currently, sales represent just 0.1 percent of the entire US vehicle market.
Consequently, there are concerns within the auto industry that given the sluggish demand, sales of zero emissions vehicles won’t grow fast enough to meet the mandated targets, meaning that automakers could risk facing hefty fines. Bailey Wood, director of legislative affairs for the National Automobile Dealer’s Association, believes the requirements could result in a very tough market for dealers to do business, because it would require stocking more models that aren’t popular with buyers. “Already, dealers have to accept less popular vehicles to get the ones they want,” he stated. “With the [zero-emission vehicle] mandate, it will be even worse.”
That said, David Clegern, speaking on behalf of CARB, says that the new ZEV regulations were conceived with flexibility in mind, meaning that should an automaker struggle to hit the required sales targets for such vehicles in one state, it has the option of shipping them to another without incurring penalties. In addition, those manufacturers that exceed federal rules can earn credits which they can apply to state regulations, with sales of gasoline-electric hybrids being eligible for such credits, at least initially.
However, with sales of even gas-electric hybrids currently remaining flat (at around 3 percent of all US vehicle demand) and fuel cell cars and trucks still showing little sign of becoming available within the next few years, meeting these tough ZEV targets is going to prove challenging at best.
[Source: Automotive News]
Japanese car firm Toyota is already a world leader in hybrid technology. Now it seems, Toyota wants to have a similar strangle hold of the fuel-cell market.
According to vice-president of product planning and marketing for Toyota Europe, Alain Uyttenhoven, Toyota is planning on selling a few thousand fuel-cell vehicles starting in 2015. Sales are expected to be low due to the price required to make the vehicles. Since the technology is new and thus expensive to produce, each vehicle could sell for as much as $138,000.
The price means that it would attract the most eco-minded drivers and government agencies looking to put more green in their footprint.
For 2012, Toyota will offer a plug-in hybrid version of the Prius along with the regular Prius models. The plug-in version uses the same Hybrid Synergy Drive system as the regular version, but since it has a much larger 4.4 kwh lithium-ion battery pack, it can travel 13-miles on electric mode alone. Since the battery pack is not very big, it takes just 3-hours to fully charge from a standard 120v household outlet, or just 1.5-hours from a 240v system. Once the battery is depleted, you can continue the journey using the normal Prius hybrid drive system.
GM’s CEO Dan Akerson believes that the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle won’t be feasible until at least 2020. Let’s hope GM calls the right prediction this time.
“We’re looking at hydrogen fuel cells, which have no carbon emissions, zero,” said Akerson. “The car is still too expensive and probably won’t be practical until the 2020-plus period, I don’t know. And then there’s the issue of infrastructure.”
This hasn’t been the first time GM’s pulled a Nostradamus on fuel cell vehicles: back in 2002, it claimed that hundreds of thousands of them would be on the road by 2010. By 2006, GM lowered that vague number to 1,000. Last year came and went, and it missed that goal.
GM cited high cost and a lack of hydrogen fueling stations for fudging the thousand-car goal. But it hasn’t stopped speculating on the next generation of fuel cell vehicles that it could build: the car will use half the expensive precious metals, be half the size, and 220 pounds lighter than current fuel cell vehicles, it said in 2009. That same year it said that by 2015 the fuel cell vehicle will be “commercialized,” and by 2022 it will be cost-competitive.
“They’re very expensive now,” said Akerson, “but we’ve, just in the last two years, reduced the price of that technology by $100,000.”
No other car company has brought a fuel cell vehicle to the masses, or intends to by 2015; Honda’s gee-whiz FCX Clarity is only available in California, and only about 200 examples are on the road. GM may have a point—but, just as we never launched a spaceship to Jupiter in 2001 like we did in 2001, speculating on the future with such concrete dates usually ends up, well, looking dated.
[Source: Detroit News]