Cost of hydrogen fuel cell cars will be affordable in 2015

by Greg Blencoe on October 26, 2009

Toyota FCHV-adv hydrogen fuel cell vehicle

One of the most frequently asked questions about hydrogen cars is:

How much will hydrogen cars cost?

The answer is hydrogen cars will be affordable in 2015 if they are mass produced.

General comments from Daimler and Honda

For example, Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche discussed this issue in general terms in the following excerpt from a Spiegel (Germany) article that was published in March:

“But the question remains: When will hydrogen-fueled cars be mass-produced and affordable? Zetsche says that annual production of the new vehicles would have to reach 100,000 and that by around 2015, the vehicle prices could match those of conventional cars.”

And here is an excerpt from a Bloomberg article that was published in May that provides some very general information from Honda about the cost of their hydrogen fuel cell vehicles:

“Cheaper, longer-lasting fuel-cell stack and hydrogen-tank materials should be ready in five years, Honda President Takeo Fukui said in an April 23 interview in Detroit.”

Hyundai/Kia provides more details

Hyundai/Kia recently said that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles would cost $50,000 right now if 50,000 units were produced each year. This is a good starting point.

While the exact amount is difficult to estimate, there is no doubt that Hyundai/Kia should be able to lower the cost of their hydrogen fuel cell vehicles a lot by 2015.

The company will be able to complete approximately four more years of R&D on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles before the typical two-year production process must begin in 2013. Hyundai/Kia announced in July that the company would spend approximately $1.77 billion on developing hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles between now and the end of 2013.

To get an idea of how much the Hyundai/Kia hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have improved in a short period of time, I highly recommend reading the following article titled “Kia’s Big Fuel Cell Plans” that was published in July.

As far along as hydrogen fuel cell technology is now, just imagine how much better it will be four years from now.

Furthermore, a key point to mention is that Hyundai/Kia did not start researching hydrogen fuel cell vehicles until 2000.

Toyota is the gold standard

On the other hand, Toyota started their in-house hydrogen fuel cell vehicle program back in 1992! Moreover, Toyota invests nearly $1 million PER HOUR in R&D.

This is probably why Justin Ward, advanced powertrain program manager at the Toyota Technical Center, told Ward’s Auto (subscription required for the article) in July that:

“We have some confidence the vehicle released around 2015 is going to have costs that are going to be shocking for most of the people in the industry. They are going to be very surprised we were able to achieve such an impressive cost reduction.”

Furthermore, Irv Miller, TMS group vice president, environmental and public affairs, made the following comment in August:

“In 2015, our plan is to bring to market a reliable and durable fuel cell vehicle with exceptional fuel economy and zero emissions, at an affordable price.”

What does Toyota mean when the company says the costs of their hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will be “shocking” to the auto industry? What does “affordable” mean?

Nobody outside of Toyota knows for sure.

Estimated cost of hydrogen cars in 2015

However, assuming the hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are mass produced, my guess is that the cost in 2015 will be no more than a couple thousand dollars above a similar gasoline-powered vehicle.

And with oil prices likely headed a lot higher in the next five years, the overall cost of owning a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle could be lower than a similar gasoline-powered vehicle in 2015.

[Photo credit: Toyota USA Newsroom Image Library]

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