American consumers have been showing a growing interest in alternative fuel vehicles in recent years, from hybrids to fully electric cars. Hydrogen fuel cell cars are among the emerging new technologies with high potential, but at present there are no US auto manufacturers with a fuel cell car on the market. Asian manufacturers are at the forefront of this zero-emissions technology as companies like Toyota, Hyundai, and Honda debut new vehicles in the US within the coming year.
Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles do not need to be plugged in to charge, but instead are refueled with compressed hydrogen gas, and can be fully refueled in a short amount of time similar to that for petroleum-fueled vehicles. As with many new technologies, the costs are high for early adopters, but the companies are making efforts to help. Toyota is incentivizing buyers of its fuel cell-powered Mirai model through perks offered at the time of purchase. Toyota will pay $2,500 for the first three years of fuelling the vehicle, which they estimate to be around 45,000 miles. Hyundai will provide lessees of the hydrogen fuel cell version of its Tucson model with free fuel if they live near hydrogen pumping stations.
Both the Mirai and Tucson will soon be made available first to residents in California and the Northeast states of New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island because of the hydrogen fuelling infrastructure in place. While the Hyundai Tucson is currently available for lease, the Toyota Mirai will go on sale this October in California. The Honda FCV is expected to go on sale next March. Although US automobile company Ford has partnered with Daimler AG and Nissan Motor Company to partner and create more cost-efficient hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, they are expected to enter into the market at the earliest by 2017.
Nina Geller is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a recent graduate of the Monterey Institute of International Studies.