Japanese, South Korean Automakers to offer Fuel Cell EVs by 2015


Mercedes-Benz fuel cell demonstration vehicle in China. 

Japanese and South Korean automakers are optimistic about commercializing fuel cell electric vehicles by 2015, according to a new study. Mercedes-Benz is also known to be pursuing the advanced technology – that in theory is emission free – with demonstration units due as early as 2014. During 2011, Japanese and South Korean markets were limited to concept cars or fuel cell electric vehicles leased to fleets in urban areas. Now automakers claim they are ready for the “commercialization” of the FCEV market during 2015, at least on a limited basis.

This light duty fuel cell market has shown promise for decades, but the problem remains it is space age technology at NASA levels of cost. Not surprisingly, automakers have varying levels of interest in fuel cells that always appears to be just a few years or so from commercialization at $100,000-$400,000 per vehicle. This makes conventional $40,000-$100,000 battery electric EVs – currently a small fraction of the new vehicle market – look like bargains compared to what automakers would have to charge  to make a profit on a fuel cell vehicle.

Frost & Sullivan’s new “CEO’s 360 Degree Analysis of Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle Market in Japan and South Korea” just released finds that fuel cell vehicles are expected to increase to 58,100 units in 2020 from 600 units in 2011.

“Key Japanese auto OEMs such as Honda, Toyota and Nissan and South Korea’s Hyundai/Kia are preparing their FCEV models for commercialization,” says Vijayendra Rao of Frost & Sullivan. “Cities in Japan such as Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, and Fukuoka, as well as Seoul and Ulsan in South Korea are targeted by OEMs for commercialization of fuel cell vehicles.”

Not surprisingly given the costs, the Japanese and South Korean Governments are subsidizing FCEVs. The Japanese government offers support for research and development and subsidies for hydrogen station infrastructure; while the South Korean government offers subsidies for R&D, and is setting up a hydrogen infrastructure along with oil companies.

In 2011, 22 hydrogen-refueling stations were operational in Japan and South Korea with 11 in each country.


About Ken Zino

Ken Zino is an auto industry veteran with global experience in print, broadcast and electronic media. He has auto testing, marketing, public relations and communications expertise garnered while working in Asia, Europe and the U.S.
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