Hydrogen Fuel Cell vehicles (FCVs) are enjoying something of a comeback lately, as everyone from Hyundai and Honda to GM and Daimler are talking about forthcoming production versions of test-fleet FCVs. And with EVs poised to both dominate the short-term green-car game and inevitably disappoint consumers, it’s no surprise that the perennial “fuel of the future” is enjoying a fresh look from automakers. But if high cost and range anxiety are the flies in the EV ointment, the FCV-boosters are finding their hydrogen cars tend to suffer from the same problems. Daimler says
By 2015, we think a fuel cell car will not cost more than a four-cylinder diesel hybrid that meets the Euro 6 emissions standard.
but that by no means guarantees its Mercedes FCV will be truly “affordable” by any reasonable standard, as diesel-electrics are considered one of the most expensive applications of internal combustion power. And then there’s the whole range issue. Yes, FCVs refuel faster than EVs, but even the most ambitious of Hydrogen-boosters, Daimler, are only pushing vehicles with a 250-mile range. Which is why we puzzled a bit over The Globe And Mail‘s assesment that
Three Mercedes-Benz B-Class F-CELL models will make [a 125-day] global trek, which will seek to highlight the real-world benefits of fuel cells versus EVs – mainly their much further range
Flipping over to AutoMotorundSport, we find that the irony which completely escaped the G&M is threatening to overwhelm Daimler’s entire demonstration. And, as is only natural when things like this occur, there’s a bizarre TTAC connection…
So, I’m reading the AMundS write-up on the leg of the F-Cell world tour from Stuttgart to Reims, France, and both German writers start stuck in the F-Cell’s none-to-commodious back seat. Up front, two Americans seem to be trying to set a new speed record, as “Michael” of “Auto Blog” (presumabely Michael Harley of Autoblog) “stared, transfixed, at the speedo and passed the record numbers to his navigator, Jonny.” This “Jonny,” as it turns out, is none other than TTAC Alum and “Auto Trend” scribe Jonny Lieberman, who (literally) had a front-seat ticket for Daimler’s fuel-cell fiasco.
Apparently, even after reaching the F-Cell’s electronically-limited 178 KPH VMax, “The man from ‘Auto Blog'” did not want to give up “a single meter of “Unlimited German Autobahn” (NB: capitalization is a sign of German humor). According to the backseat Germans, the ride flew by thanks to both the velocity and the “extensive ravings” about previous trips to Germany with wives and Porsches.
The pace was only interrupted when a cell phone rang, and “Mission Control” asked the four journos to report when they’d consumed a quarter and half of their hydrogen tank. “Houston, we have a problem,” came the reply from inside the F-Cell, “our tank is already half-empty.” The journalists are told not to exceed 100 KPH for the rest of the trip, and (counter-inuitively) “Michael” moved over to let least-likely hypermiler in recent memory, Mr Jonny Lieberman, behind the wheel.
The narrative continues:
The crossing of the Rhine has echoes of Apollo 13. “I have turned off all systems” says Mike… The pace now rests at 80 KPH. It doesn’t help. With almost 200 grams of hydrogen after 227 kilometers, the engine is turned off. “How much is that converted?” asks Mike. “Less than a Quarter-Pounder” reckons Jonny.
Inevitable reference here. Professional restraint here.
American stereotype-mongery aside, the real lesson here is that the first two F-Cell vehicles on the world tour didn’t even make it to the first refueling station, a temporary operation that was set up by the several internal-combustion-powered trucks that follow the world tour. Instead, both had to ride in the back of ICE-powered trucks to get to the fueling station, which itself was set up by trucks. Needless to say, part of Daimler’s goal with the Tour is to highlight the need for hydrogen refueling stations… but with enough infrastructure investment, EVs could do everything the F-Cell can. Absent a convincing advantage in range, the head-start in electrical infrastructure (as well as other efficiency considerations) seems to make EVs more practical as a wide-scale zero-emissions solution than FCVs… and the F-Cell World Tour doesn’t seem likely to change that perception. Especially if they keep letting lead-footed American writers do the driving.
Surf over to AMundS for more photos and German-language coverage of the F-Cell world tour