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Honda, Toyota to abandon hydrogen fuel cell plans

In a shocking and abrupt reversal of course, the two Japanese auto giants that had previously thrown their lot in with a hydrogen future have announced a joint venture to pursue battery electric vehicle technology that is “far more likely to succeed.”

Honda and Toyota are two of the largest and most influential automakers in the world. Both Japanese companies are known for quality, reliable products and for taking a steady long-term approach. Until very recently, that approach was to develop hydrogen fuel cell technology while virtually ignoring pure electric vehicles.

Now, however, shocking revelations from several high-ranking officials at both companies indicate the Japanese giants plan to join forces and abandon their misguided fuel cell projects. A Honda official who wished to remain anonymous stated, “Look, as always we’re a decade or two away from truly viable fuel cell vehicles, and that’s the best-case scenario. We need to take action against climate change now, and this fuel cell thing has mainly just been a marketing charade. Battery electrics are here today and if we don’t get into the game as soon as possible we will be left behind.”

A Toyota executive echoed those sentiments, adding “To be honest, I don’t know how we made it this far without recognizing our folly. Where will the hydrogen come from and how do we store it? Who will pay for the refueling infrastructure? How will we get vehicle costs down? How do we make the chemical reactions happen faster for responsiveness remotely comparable to EVs? And that’s not even considering safety concerns; look what happened when two Teslas had fluke accidents and their batteries caught fire relatively harmlessly. Hydrogen is an extremely dangerous gas...imagine the uproar when a couple of hydrogen fuel tanks explode!”

It is heartening to see this change of course for the two powerful companies that previously contributed very little to the zero-emission vehicle movement. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles don’t seem to make much sense, especially on the heels of the announcement that the first production fuel cell vehicles in Japan would have cost over $97,000.

As pointed out by another Honda official, “Exorbitant costs aside, fuel cell vehicles compare quite unfavorably with ever-improving battery technology. You can plug in an EV everywhere, and the infrastructure is relatively inexpensive and easy to install anywhere you need it. Heck, with solar panels you don’t even need a grid connection. But you can refill a hydrogen vehicle pretty much nowhere, and the infrastructure build-out required would be daunting. Each station can cost well upward of $1 million. Almost makes me shudder just thinking about it.”

With Honda and Toyota focused at last on battery electric vehicle development, there is no telling what the industry could accomplish without the distraction of the hydrogen mirage in the distance. They should be commended for their honesty and bravery in this reversal of ideology.

As the great automotive engineer C.S. Lewis once said, “If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.” To the relief of all those who hope for a carbon-free transportation future, Honda and Toyota have finally heeded his advice.

Who are we kidding...Happy April Fool’s Day, everyone!


dougliser (not verified)    April 1, 2014 - 2:52PM

I can't believe they held on to this fuel cell idea so long. I know Toyota believes that a car with a 100 mile range is basically useless. It's possible that they saw the light with BEVs and better batteries in the future or they just decided that it's better to provide lip service with a few Teslish RAV4s than actually have to produce a consumer fuel-cell vehicle. The former is a few grand lost per vehicle while the latter is a billion+ dollar program.

mike w (not verified)    April 1, 2014 - 7:10PM

I too am surprised they held out this long. Toyota has publically announced they were looking at solid state lithium ion batteries to be used in a 300 mile BEV. Glad more people are seeing the light or is that new battery tech is right around the corner.

Maynex (not verified)    April 2, 2014 - 12:38AM

We can indeed make fuel cell far cheaper and safer than EV now, just take a look at what H2-Flex is doing today.

dougliser (not verified)    April 2, 2014 - 10:44AM

In reply to by Maynex (not verified)

Is that a real product? It would certainly help not to have to carry a 3000 psi tank of H2. As a consumer, that's a non-starter for me. I used to scuba and heard stories of what compressed tanks can do if mistreated -- and those were just air.

Of course if you believe in powering vehicles with metal cartridges, you can make an Al-air battery and generate electricity instead of h2 and skip the fuel cell.

Christopher (not verified)    April 2, 2014 - 11:36AM

Awesome!! Here's hoping some actual, head-in-the-hydrogen execs at Toyota and Honda see this and come to their senses. Yeah, I know, that most likely won't happen until they start seeing their sales clobbered. Too bad!

jim seko (not verified)    April 2, 2014 - 1:00PM

Hook. Line. Sinker. It's hard to believe real engineers are pursuing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. It's not like me to suggest conspiracy theories but I suspect massive bribes from the natural gas industry are the only thing keeping hydrogen fuel cell R&D alive.

Parks McCants    April 2, 2014 - 4:50PM

What I can't believe is that seemingly well educated readers can't find their way to the last paragraph of the story. Honda and Toyota have no intention of abandoning Fuel Cell development. In-fact, both manufacturers will release a FCEV to the public for retail purchase in early 2015. California has implemented a 10 year $100 million matching funds program for the expansion of liquid hydrogen fueling stations.

dougliser (not verified)    April 2, 2014 - 6:50PM

In reply to by Parks McCants

You mean the part where they say mention "April Fools"? Duh, I was just ready to book a weekend rental for a Rav4e trial to replace our Leaf when the lease expires. Thanks for pointing this out. As a consumer and shareholder of both Toyota and Honda, I'm disappointed.

mike w (not verified)    April 2, 2014 - 8:22PM

Haha april fools. my bad didn't see the last sentence of the article till after I pressed the save button. But yea. I believe advancements in battery tech notably solid state lithium ion, which is being developed by Toyota and others will make fool cells obsolete long before they are cost completive with BEVs. Toyota has already announced the cost of their eco-box FCV will be $97,000 and cost $30 per 300 miles for fuel if you can find it. This price will not compete with say a Tesla model S with a fuel cost of $ 8 per 300 miles.
FCVs will always be more expensive than BEVs because they have a fuel cell and a lithium ion battery. There may be a market of FCV but I'm not interested.

jim seko (not verified)    April 3, 2014 - 10:55AM

As an engineer I cannot fathom what is keeping them invested fuel cells. The longer they put off serious investment in plugin cars the further they will fall behind. It's baffling.

Parks McCants    April 3, 2014 - 6:00PM

In reply to by jim seko (not verified)

Here's a thought: Honda has reduced the size of its ( fuel cell generator) by no less than 50%. The efficiency of battery charge retention and the reduction of charge time through Honda Lithium Ion technology is changing the FCEV playing field.( Excuse the run-on sentence.)

We also know of the development of frame and body panel charge storage, regenerative braking, etc. There is no calculating the acceleration of new development in the near future of FCEV. B.T.W. Fuel Cell power generation is not limited to compressed fossil fuel derived Hydrogen. Think Bio... Nitrogen can be derived from cellulose produced methane gas. Ya know, the dump. While I agree with you that plug in EVs will dominate in the near term, unless we limit our dependency on the PUC, plug in EV is simply an extension of fossil fuel dependency. ( in most cases.) Never say never.

Sankara Rama (not verified)    April 14, 2014 - 5:09AM

This news came out on 1-April-2014 and hopefully its not a "April Fools" message from the Japanese giants..rather a mistake felt after so long and giving hopes to public that they would employ the first Fuel cell cars which are productionable???

Sankara Rama (not verified)    April 21, 2014 - 1:57PM

Thank you Mr.Parks...really still more challenging wud be see how these high cost of Solution to Global warming becomes a reality throught out the world!! so that every one in this earth can benefit to attack globally about warming of this beautiful planet..One Earth! One Goal! - Global Warming

LoganKane (not verified)    May 5, 2015 - 10:52AM

Love April Fools articles and love punishing people that don't read all the article or notice the date - BUT you should take down false articles after everyone's had a few laughs because they still pop up in Google results and still seem to be real years later.