While we are still a few years away from self-driving cars taking over the roads, hydrogen powered fuel cell cars are the latest automotive trend, and the race is on. The two automakers leading the pack, Japan’s Toyota and South Korea’s Hyundai, are both working on models to release to the market, though Toyota recently pulled ahead. Set to release the Mirai (Japanese for “future”) by the 15th of December in Japan, models are already available for test-drives in the US and the model has been priced at $57,500. Honda and Mercedes also have test vehicles in the works.
The vehicle’s engine runs on hydrogen, rather than gasoline, which reacts with water to power the car’s battery and release steam, making it a zero-emission vehicle. The cell car can travel up to 300 miles before refueling and can be refueled in five minutes. Toyota is even offering three years of free refueling with their new Mirai model. Additionally, the car can function as a generator, and has a sleek, futuristic skeleton meant to mimic the process of air turning into water.
Despite the government incentives and clean conscious for sale, the industry for the hydrogen-fueled car has yet to be solidified. Honda’s president recently spoke of the urgent need for clean energy, optimistically predicting that thirty years time would see a large number of cell vehicles on the road. Though the skeptics are numerous. The problem with hydrogen refueling is the scarcity of stations. Japan leads the FCV market with 30 fueling stations, whereas California only has 9 with plans to build an additional 28 by 2016. However, they will remain extremely scarce in comparison to traditional gas stations, and drivers will often have to travel out of their way.
State and private funding sources are working to change the limited availability, with plans underway to expand to New York and Boston. Honda recently donated $13.8 million to build fueling stations (each one costing roughly $1 million), on top of Toyota’s $17 million. Volkswagen, however, approaches the industry with trepidation, only prepared to enter when it is more established.