Fuel cell cars have taken a beating in public perceptions in the United States over the past 4 years. First, the Obama Administration significantly cut funding for the Department of Energy’s fuel cell vehicle technology program, and shifted the department’s focus to the plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) market. Then, the launch of commercial PEVs and the steady growth of PEV sales cemented the impression that FCVs are a dead technology, made obsolete by PEVs. As a result, Europe is now the hub of fuel cell vehicle and infrastructure development activity globally, supplanting the United States, which had led the way in this sector in the late 2000s.
The European Union, along with the national governments of Germany, the Nordic countries, and the United Kingdom, have made a clear commitment to prepare for FCV commercialization in 2015. The main drivers for European interest in FCVs (as well as PEVs) are aggressive 2050 GHG emissions targets set by the EU; the growth of renewable energy, with hydrogen seen as a way to use excess renewable energy capacity; and economic growth, with Germany in particular seeing FCV development as a way to support its auto industry. In addition, the PEV market has not taken off as quickly in Europe as it has in the United States, and there is some skepticism about how large a market share PEVs will ultimately take. As a result, European governments are developing roadmaps to deploy hydrogen infrastructure in time for the automakers’ 2015 introduction plans.
Fuel Cell Light Duty Vehicle Sales by Region, World Markets: 2020-2030
(Source: Navigant Research)
Of course, it doesn’t really matter which region is “leading” and which may end up following, as long as the world market does in fact take off – except that the current lack of activity in the United States means that very few vehicles will be brought to its shores when commercial FCVs are introduced in 2015-2016. In the new Navigant Research report, Fuel Cell Vehicles, I forecast that fewer than 1,000 FCVs will be sold in the United States in the first 2 years, virtually all in California. This is well below the tens of thousands of PEVs first introduced in the United States in 2010 and 2011. But FCVs simply will not be introduced where there is no infrastructure in place to support them. Although the FCV market will grow much more slowly than the PEV market, Europe will start out ahead of the United States and stay there.
Tags: Alternative Fuel Vehicles, Clean Transportation, Energy Storage, Fuel cell vehicles, Smart Transportation Program
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