Here's Why Japanese Automakers Keep Sending Hydrogen-powered Cars to North America

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
here s why japanese automakers keep sending hydrogen powered cars to north america

The United States and Canada don’t have much of a hydrogen fueling infrastructure to speak of, but Japanese automakers continue sending fuel cell vehicles across the ocean anyway. Vehicles like the Honda Clarity and Toyota Mirai have been touted as the environmental saviors of tomorrow but, with the exception of California, there really isn’t a place for them in the North America of today. So why do Japanese manufactures continue to bother with hydrogen?

The main reason is because Japan has bought into a future that America doesn’t seem interested in. With three of its automakers already producing fuel cell cars, the government as adopted a fairly aggressive plan to adopt hydrogen for homes, business, and cars by 2030 — meaning the U.S. probably won’t see these vehicles vanish anytime soon.

Japan’s plan calls for a nationwide hydrogen distribution system so expansive that it would eventually reduce vehicle and fuel prices to a point that would make them competitive with their internal combustion counterparts. By 2030, the country wants 900 commercial hydrogen fueling stations attached to a vast network that also feeds powerplants and farms. It hopes to service 40,000 fuel cell vehicles by 2020, 200,000 by 2025, and over 800,000 in 2030.

However, Japan doesn’t have any illusions that the normalization will be easy. “This is a very challenging goal,” said Yoshikazu Tanaka, chief engineer of Toyota’s Mirai fuel cell sedan, in an interview with Automotive News. “But we need to keep pushing ourselves toward the ambitious creation of a hydrogen society.”

Japan only has 1,740 fuel cell vehicles milling around the country at this time. The number serves to show how far the plan has yet to go in the next thirteen years, but it also illustrates how willing the country has been to implement hydrogen-powered cars. After all, the entire world has only managed to purchase roughly 4,000 fuel cell vehicles and Japan owns more than its fair share. It has also produced more and, ideally, wants the rest of the world to buy them.

“This is where Japan is different from other countries,” said Hiroshi Katayama, deputy director for advanced energy systems at Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI). “I think Japan is in the lead.”

It’s a strong lead too. While Germany and Korea have also seriously invested in fuel cell technology, they’re both playing catch up and neither country seems to have Japan’s willingness to reconfigure its infrastructure. Japan might be an isolated case. Europe has been gradually adopting electric vehicles, but growth has slowed in the last few months and numerous EU-based automakers have even sworn off hydrogen as infeasible. Meanwhile, North America has seen continued growth for zero-emission vehicles in general, but the United States may see its regulators roll back emissions standards in the near future. And, with the exception of a few key regions, neither continent seems interested in adopting a hydrogen network over one that favors plug-in charging.

One possible exception could be China. Asia’s most populous country has adopted more stringent pollution policy in recent years and has taken to electric cars better than its peers. It has also been swift to implement a support network for those vehicles. Toyota said last week that it would begin testing the Mirai in China by October to evaluate the market and promote fuel cell technology. The country’s reaction to HEVs could dictate if we continue to see the technology in the future.

[Image: Eneos]

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  • Brandloyalty Brandloyalty on Apr 24, 2017

    Would you want to be in a building withvan underground parking area full of cars with tanks of hydrogen? What does the insurance industry think of this?

    • See 1 previous
    • Redmondjp Redmondjp on Apr 25, 2017

      @mcs Google image "honda civic natural gas explosion" to see the pictures of a Honda Civic GX that was engulfed in a fire, which caused the H2 tank to burn and fail in a spectacular manner. I'll take a pure EV any day, any time over something with a 5K or 10K psi storage tank in it.

  • Pbx Pbx on Apr 25, 2017

    Whatever became of the much touted Hydrogen Highway between Los Angeles and Vancouver? Back when Schwarzenegger was Governor this was going to be a big deal.

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