By on September 9, 2014

VW-Up-Japan-December-2012

While Toyota and the administration of Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are going all in on hydrogen, Volkswagen Group Japan President Shigeru Shoji proclaims FCVs will struggle to make headway elsewhere.

According to Bloomberg, Shoji says the government subsidies meant to push Toyota’s Mirai and other FCVs into the marketplace are likely too high for other governments to match. He adds that issues surrounding refueling infrastructure and the handling of hydrogen itself will add to the roadblocks awaiting the technology outside of Japan.

Those comments — echoing sentiments by Tesla CEO Elon Musk and other hydrogen skeptics — aren’t lost on either Toyota or the Abe administration. Company representative Dion Corbett says the subsidies are needed to help get hydrogen off the ground, citing the high cost of developing fuel-cell technology. That said, Dion believes demand will not only be the highest in Japan — where Abe envisions a “hydrogen society” of fuel-cells for homes and businesses as well as cars — but in Germany, California and the U.S. East Coast.

Though Volkswagen has its doubts, VW Japan representative Yasuo Maruta says the company is keeping its eye on Toyota’s efforts, planning to be no more than three years’ behind R&D work in relation to Toyota.

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35 Comments on “Volkswagen: Hydrogen Will Struggle Outside of Japan...”


  • avatar
    Hummer

    Thanks VW, always on top of the news.
    /sarcasm

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Hilarious that they plan to be no more than three years behind.

      Now THAT’S how you maintain innovation; follow.

      • 0 avatar
        Kendahl

        Being second means you can cherry pick the best of your competitors’ ideas and avoid the expense of their failures. Agreed that you don’t want to fall too far behind.

      • 0 avatar
        Charlie84

        Following from a safe distance is exactly what you should do if you suspect the leader might be headed directly towards a cliff.

      • 0 avatar
        raresleeper

        Second mover strategy is key here, Sir.

        (Cheaper that way, too.)

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          Yep yep, I agree overall. VW used to be a leader, though.

          • 0 avatar

            Not really. VW has been very conservative and only innovates when all else is lost. Back in the 70s, they acquired Audi to access water cooled engine technology. They usually lag behind others in the adoption of other technology, too. In our market they lagged behind Fiat and others in adopting market trends. Lately however they have brought on some firsts, like the 3 cylinder engine option and some flex fuel tech. Seems like they do wait and see what proves itself before they commit totally.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        Considering adoption of DI engines, VW may just try to out-Toyota Toyota this time, instead of being caught out doing all the hard work, only to have your rival sneak past you on the home stretch with combined direct/port injection….

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I think hydrogen will go down as one of the biggest flops in automotive history, sort of like Ford’s variable venturi carburetor.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    I still want to know where Japan is going to get the hydrogen.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      @FormerFF
      Have you ever watched those old 007 Movies?

      In “You Only Live Twice” on a Japanese Island there was a considerable amount of hydrogen.

    • 0 avatar

      Especially with switching off the nuclear power.

      • 0 avatar
        RogerB34

        The citizen voted complete nuclear shutdown was vetoed by the PM and not overridden in the legislature. Hara kiri by popular demand. Hydrogen? They will have difficulty meeting electricity demand without the hydrogen burden.

    • 0 avatar
      L'avventura

      Its already been announced.

      Australia. 2017. Hydrogen sourced from brown coal. Shipped via tanker from Victoria to Japan.

      http://www.greencarcongress.com/2013/09/20130928-khi.html

      Therein lies hydrogen’s real potential and ultimate road to success. Not some pie-in-the-sky green dream, but something rather dirtier, more cost-effective and pragmatic.

      Hydrogen isn’t an energy source but rather an intermediate for energy sources such an natural gas, coal, nuclear, and any and all sources of energy, clean or dirty, can be converted to singular fuel for vehicular transport.

      Its that fungibility of energy that is hydrogen’s real draw.

  • avatar
    jacob_coulter

    If you’re going to use hydrogen, why not just skip the middle-man and go for natural gas powered vehicles? Around 95% of hydrogen is produced from natural gas. Engines propelled by natural gas are already accessible and easy to implement.

    I’m always amazed by “green” idiots thinking that all that matters in the chain is how the car moves, not what it takes to create the “zero emission” final product that propels the car.

    Even battery powered cars, it’s the same thing. Unless you’re talking about massive new investments in nuclear power plants, you’re going to have to make that electricity from natural gas or coal. And other technologies like solar and windmills are a joke, you can’t blanket entire states with windmills and solar panels.

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      In realilty, the “green idiots” have always pointed out that it takes energy to make hydrogen. It’s only the backwater scuttlefish that have made this false accusation. It is the FCV advocates, who I don’t consider to be “greenies”, who perpetuate the myth that hydrogen somehow comes out of nowhere.

      While you correctly point out that even electric cars need to get energy from somewhere, what you neglect to recognize is that electric cars are very efficient, while ICE engines waste something like 70% of the energy in their fuel. Electric/hybrid cars also have energy-saving systems such as CVT’s, brake regeneration and Atkinson cycle engines. This is why you may have noticed that owners of ev’s are spending very small amounts of money on electricity used to charge their cars, compared to buying gas for equivalent use of a regular car.

      You also need to do some research into how much energy the sun provides the Earth with every day. It’s a lot. There’s no need to blanket the planet with ways to capture it.

      • 0 avatar
        jacob_coulter

        Have you done the calculations on the fossil-fuel power plants that produce the majority of our electricity? What do they lose in heat? Why does that figure not get counted?

        Once again, too many environmentalists seem to only think what comes out of the car tailpipe is what matters, never mind all the other steps to get there.

        Regarding solar, if every electric car owner put a solar panel on their roof, it wouldn’t be enough to power their car.

        California has 28,000 plus acres devoted to windmills and they produce a whopping 1.5% of the state’s electricity. A single natural gas power plant on one acre would produce several times the electricity.

        Alternative energy is a joke that usually just fleeces taxpayers.

        • 0 avatar
          shaker

          Of course, you don’t count the hundreds of fracking wells needed to supply gas to that plant, or the billions of gallons of contaminated water produced… and more.

          Sheesh.

  • avatar
    Xeranar

    Not to ruin a perfectly good circle jerk on the hydrogen hate but anytime a corporation with a public interest/disinterest in a research area comes out publicly to complain I tend to not give a damn. In simple terms Hydrogen FCs or conversion of ICE to hydrogen are completely reasonable objectives if a strong push was made to implement an infrastructure, converting Japan to this actually makes amortizing the basic research quicker and makes following suit more desirable.

    That being said I am firmly in favor of hydrogen but I remain realistic about its implementation, that is I suspect we’ll see it rise to further prominence in the coming decades and not see a huge dramatic shift tomorrow.

    • 0 avatar
      petezeiss

      “if a strong push was made to implement an infrastructure”… we could run cars on welfare whales. I’d back a bio-diesel push.

      And the infrastructure is already partly in place thanks to our fast food empire. What a nice partnership between private corporations and government it could be :-D

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      I still can’t get past the 10,000 psi storage tanks. I’m probably being overly paranoid – after all, what could possibly go wrong?

  • avatar
    TW5

    Hydrogen will struggle outside of Japan because other nations have enough conventional supplies to avoid making changes. The underlying economic phenomenon has existed for centuries, and it motivated Japan to be the world leader in hybrid-gasoline technology, a role Honda inexplicably relinquished after the Gen 1 Insight.

    I wouldn’t bet against Japan. They have to make hydrogen work. They don’t have fossil fuels. They don’t have enough arable land to grow biofuels. They don’t like importing nuclear materials or nuclear technology. They don’t have the necessary resources for domestic battery production, and they don’t like bargaining with China for access to rare-earth metals.

    Necessity is the mother of invention.

    • 0 avatar
      jacob_coulter

      But where is the hydrogen going to come from?

      If over 90%+ of hydrogen comes from fossil fuels, how is it any different than simply importing fossil fuels?

      If you’re going to create hydrogen by an expensive process like electrolysis, it’s going to require massive amounts of electricity to produce. If Japan moves away from nuclear power, how will the electricity be produced?

      The answer always seems to go back to fossil fuels, you’re just moving the chain of production and creating a lot of extra steps so you don’t have the visual of emissions coming out a car tail pipe.

      • 0 avatar
        TW5

        The earth is bombarded with more energy than humanity could ever use, and we have more hydrogen atoms, stored as water, than we can ever use. Scientists are hoping to harness the energy for artificial photosynthesis (direct to hydrogen technology) to split water.

        I don’t know the specifics of the science, but like I said, necessity is the mother of invention.

    • 0 avatar
      Brett Woods

      Could they drill into a volcano and boil water that way?

  • avatar
    HerrKaLeun

    Hydrogen will struggle wherever the laws of Thermodynamics apply.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      In politics, they don’t.

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      Exactly.

      Not to mention the lack of infrastructure, the difficulty of containing the stuff, and the consequences when it escapes and ignites.

      By comparison, the infrastructure for charging ev’s is already mostly in place (although relatively minor upgrading such as home chargers is needed), it is relatively easy to contain, and it isn’t terribly hazardous. And it avoids the conversion losses laundering the energy through hydrogen.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        Unless almost the entire Japanese scientific community have collectively decided to go completely insane this time (And with Abenomics, honestly who knows…..), I can’t help but think they have good reason to believe all the problems we keep citing with hydrogen, still pales in comparison with continuing the pace of growth in energy density/usability of more conventional batteries.

        It’s not as if Japanese electronics giants with just as good access to Tokyo as the automakers, aren’t at the cutting edge of battery tech. I just have a problem seeing how this one makes sense. Perhaps battery improvements are foreseen to flatten out to the point where they’re too slow to avoid commiditization/Chineseification, and the Japs are just scrambling for something that is inherently difficult simply because it is difficult, figuring that’s the only way of keeping a comfortable lead… One way or the other, I don’t particularly like it. And if I was Ray Kurzweil hoping to live forever, I would like it even less.

    • 0 avatar
      TW5

      Plants can split water molecules with sunlight…….

  • avatar
    stingray65

    Viable and competitive hydrogen vehicles are always 10 years away, and have been for the last 50 years. But if Japanese taxpayers wish to provide big hydrogen subsidies I expect it will still be 10 years away – 10 years from now.

  • avatar
    hybridkiller

    To no one in particular: ask yourselves why the world’s largest oil producer is heavily investing in transforming their electric grid to 100% renewable energy.

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