Asia’s hydrogen push
Let’s start by making one thing very clear: if China has become the global leader in the implementation of electric vehicles, it’s not so much because the country is eco-conscious. China, but also the other giants in the region (India, Japan, South Korea) are poor in natural resources and therefore depend on other countries for energy supply. A costly affaire, for sure, but there’s a political aspect to this: leverage. Asia wants to become energy-independent and that just doesn’t work with oil.
Positioning of hydrogen
Obviously, hydrogen is clean, as its only byproducts are water and heat, but it’s also expensive. In a normal, unsubsidized economy, hydrogen doesn’t stand a chance compared to electric or fossil fuel. Its potential success requires massive investments from industry and government. For this reason, Asia’s strategy is not to replace electric with hydrogen, but make the two complimentary.
The first objective is to increase hydrogen uptake in its most efficient manner. By focusing on heavy transport and buses rather than on cars, sales volumes will increase without having to create a consumer infrastructure. The consumer drives smaller vehicles that need to refuel often, which means that hydrogen stations would need to be widely available; buses and trucks however have larger fuel tanks and are used differently, allowing for less stations to be built, but volumes to be high.
If volumes can increase without excessive subsidies, economies of scale will eventually make subsidies unnecessary.
It’s remarkable how absent Toyota is from the full electric vehicle market and continues to push hybrid. This reflects the OEM’s belief that hydrogen, and not electric, is tomorrow’s powertrain. The Japanese giant has launched its Mirai in 2014, more as a test case rather than aiming for a commercial success. The number of sales has been extremely low at less than 10,000 globally over 5 years.
Hyundai is offering the Nexo crossover whilst Honda is proposing its Clarity Fuel Cell on lease only. Chinese manufacturers are now benefiting from state subsidies to build vehicles and infrastructure – this being China’s phase 2, after the push for electric. The manufacturing and sales of fuel cell components to truck and bus makers has taken off as well, especially by Hyundai and Toyota.
China wants to see over a million FCVs on the road by 2030, Japan is aiming for 800,000 and Korea for an ambitious 850,000 – also by 2030.