By on January 22, 2014


At a round-table discussion with reporters during last week’s Detroit Auto Show, Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche proclaimed that any consumer wanting to be green with fuel cells had better be prepared for a decade of disappointment with the technology.

Zetsche said there were cost issues with the process for creating fuel cells — Daimler’s three-way dance with Ford and Nissan to bring a market-ready fuel cell vehicle by 2017 was done to help spread the cost while accelerating development — as well as a lack of vehicle volume to help further drive down costs, while the few hydrogen fueling stations around the globe aren’t doing anything to help widespread adoption; there are only 10 such stations in the United States alone, eight of which are in Southern California.

Zetsche is more optimistic on the autonomous vehicle front, however, noting the unexpectedly rapid development in the technology. Mercedes-Benz has taken the lead in the space with the new S-Class and its Distronic cruise control system with automatic braking, which can pilot a car on its own for up to 60 miles with a few adjustments to its onboard technology.

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18 Comments on “Dr. Z Expects a Decade of Disappointment For Fuel Cell Technology...”

  • avatar

    Just his opinion. The same person who utterly failed at the Chrysler “merger of equals.”

  • avatar

    this: “while the few hydrogen fueling stations around the globe aren’t doing anything to help widespread adoption; there are only 10 such stations in the United States alone, eight of which are in Southern California.”

    I hate speaking in absolutes, but hydrogen will NEVER be viable on a large scale. There is a non-existant distribution network for the fuel, and building the infastructure to support is is NEVER going to happen on a cost effective level that will be able to compete with the existing 100 year established petroleum or electricity distribution infastructure. It’s just not gonna happen.

    Hydrogen fuel cells are the stuff of political misdirection solely for the purpose of appearing to be ‘green’, nothing more.

    • 0 avatar

      What you seem to be saying is that hydrogen is the fuel of the future. And always will be.

    • 0 avatar

      For clarification, hydrogen will never be the primary consumer fuel. It may become a large-scale, viable niche fuel in that it can do things that batteries can’t (but with its own set of drawbacks). For example, planes will never run on batteries. Similarly, there may be shipping fleets that run on hydrogen & be fueled at a single dispenser.

  • avatar

    Keep an eye on the green carbon-neutral gasoline research. It’s not ethanol or bio-diesel, it’s real gasoline using bio-engineering to speed up the dinosaur to fuel process. There is even a pilot plant operating in New Mexico. So, maybe green gasoline fueling a gasoline fuel cell might be the way to go.

    Gasoline Fuel Cell:

    Green Gas:

    Green Crude Plant:

  • avatar

    I think we’ll definitely see hydrogen take over – at some point. Since there are already filling stations, clearly that’s no longer an obstacle. The only obstacle is nationwide coverage of stations. I think we’ll see them spread out gradually, with hydrogen pumps added to existing major oil company locations, assuming they’re the ones producing hydrogen fuel. So LA, Chicago, NYC. Then branching out to second and third tier cities, as people realize hydrogen is taking over. Years go by, and we progress from 10/90 hydrogen/gas pumps to 50/50.

    In 75 or 100 years from now, it’ll be impossible to find a gasoline-only station, and people will talk of the old days when you had all that pollution coming out of the back of your Dodge, which they don’t make any more.

  • avatar

    Hydrogen will be a future fuel but using a regenerative system.
    Boeing and Airbus have tested regen hydrogen APU systems in airliner test beds.

  • avatar

    No doubt the Mercedes chief is warning the world that Toyota’s new fuel cell car on sale next year will be as boringly unreliable as the Prius was.

    Just sour grapes that Toyota has in fact beaten the cost barrier is all this is. And by not mentioning Toyota by name, just wanting to let the world that the technology is not conquerable by German minds – ergo it does not exist.

    Hydrogen is the silly idea, not fuel cell technology.

  • avatar

    Clean efficient, plentiful hydrogen – brought to you by Shell, Exxon-Mobil, etc. etc.

    Don’t tell the dirty secret, a lot of commercial H2 comes from cracking it out of natural gas.

    • 0 avatar

      I am sure this is much cleaner than pouring sulfric acid over iron filings; which was how it was produced back in the days of hydrogen filled airships. Apparently, natural gas>hydrogen is the most efficient, least energy consuming method we have at this time.

      • 0 avatar

        Let’s simplify and just run the cars on natural gas

        • 0 avatar

          I agree nat gas makes a lot of sense. not only because it’s clean and available, but because it’s easily adapted.

          Unfortunately it just doesn’t have the glamour of hydrogen or electrics and won’t have the same halo effect. Stigma dictates that nat gas is for fleets and hybrids and hydrogen are high fashion.

      • 0 avatar

        Well you could create it electrically, probably with nuclear power. Natural gas has an edge because the energy is already there, you don’t have to add it.

        But natural gas is a great fuel (plentiful, cheap, low carbon, low emission, and many engines can easily be modified to run on it) as it is. Why bother taking it extra steps?

  • avatar

    Hydrogen isn’t a fuel source; it’s an energy storage medium, like a battery. It takes a lot of energy to generate, compress and even merely STORE hydrogen, and it’s not very energy dense (i.e. it requires a big tank). It has about 40% of the well-to-wheel efficiency of battery powered cars. The only advntages over batteries are that it simpler to make longer range and quicker to refill, but those advantages are quickly eroding.

    The only potential application I see is as a jet fuel once fossil fuels become too expensive. It burn well in jet engines with relatively minor modifications, it only needs to be stored onboard for hours rather than days or weeks, and most of that time is spent in the cold at high altitude. The main disadvantage for aircraft use is the fuel tanks much be MUCH bigger for a given range.

  • avatar

    Doubting hydrogen? Youtube search “Bob Lazar hydrogen car”

    Guy powered a vette with his own homemade the 80’s.

  • avatar
    V-Strom rider

    This comment applies equally to the Shell story. Hydrogen is not a fuel in the sense of fuel being a source of energy, and neither is electricity. They are storage mediums (media?). The energy to produce them has to come from a genuine fuel/energy source such as fossil fuel (petrol, natural gas, shale oil etc) or nuclear fusion, solar and so on.Thinking about hydrogen as an energy storage method helps to understand why it will never be useful for a huge fleet of vehicles that need massive route flexibility. It may make sense for a small number of vehicles with fixed routes e.g. ships and school buses.

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