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Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai EV Delays and Their Fuel Cell Models

Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai all advertise that they are green automakers. But delays in showing new battery electric vehicles (BEVs) for customers to buy are raising questions about their real commitment to EVs. The main question coming up is this: are Asian automaker’s commitments to fuel cell vehicles slowing their entry into battery EVs?

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There are several reasons I am picking on these green automakers like Toyota, Honda and Hyundai.

First off, I want to say that I love the idea of vehicles that are powered by hydrogen. Hydrogen is a clean fuel, and the most abundant element on our planet. Plus for me, I actually live within an easy driving distance of hydrogen refueling stations. But for most of the U.S. there are no public hydrogen refueling stations available at all. In California, there are 39 stations currently available, but that is nothing compared to the 15,000 EV charging stations just in California, and that doesn’t even take into account the fact that most EV owners conveniently charge up at home at a fraction of the cost of gasoline.

Undeniable EV demand for Tesla and others

The impressive growth and sales success for Tesla shows that there is a real buyer’s demand for electric cars. Nearly half of EV sales in California are Teslas, and the Model 3 is the current EV sales king. Plus, after the unveiling of the controversial Tesla Cybertruck, over 250,000 preorders were taken within the first week. And When Ford unveiled their upcoming Mach-E BEV crossover, the next year’s full allocation was sold out in record time.

Asian automaker’s conspicuous absence of BEVs

Toyota released the first mass market electric hybrid vehicle over 20 years ago with the Prius. And that same year they built a pure electric RAV4 for public consumption, but they were lease-only, and only available in California. And again in 2012 Toyota released a new BEV RAV4 (using Tesla batteries and motor), but again it was only available in California. So it was surprising to see that after Tesla announced their upcoming Model Y EV crossover, and Ford had such positive feedback for their Mach-E BEV crossover, that Toyota back-peddled and announced that their next RAV4 (due next year) would be a plug-in hybrid, and not a BEV.

And in fact, they have no announced BEVs coming out for the U.S. anytime soon.

Lexus CEO Yoshihiro Sawa, recently said. “We understand that electric is very necessary — more than some, perhaps, with our early move to hybrid, but we can also see that full EV will not suit everyone. You can’t make an electric Land Cruiser work, for instance — and there are people in remote parts of the world whose lives depend on that car.”

Tell Rivian and Tesla that you cannot build a useful BEV truck or SUV.

He went on to say ”Pure EVs currently require a long charging time and batteries that have an environmental impact at manufacture and which degrade as they get older. And then, when cells need replacing, we have to consider plans for future use and recycling. It is a complex issue – much more complex than the current rhetoric perhaps suggests. I prefer to approach the future in a more honest way.”

And yet Toyota just showed off its much-better-looking 2021 Mirai fuel cell vehicle (FCEV), due out next year. Toyota’s claims that BEVs take too long to charge/refill compared to hydrogen vehicles seem like a weak argument when you figure that most owners charge overnight at home. Plus BEVs are getting much longer EV range for a lower price these days, and public EV recharging is faster and much more available than before.

I will give Toyota credit for adding hybrids and PHEVs to their broad model line-up, but it is odd that they don’t even have one single BEV model, like Nissan has their Leaf, and Chevy has their Bolt.

Honda was also early to the EV party

Honda was also one of the early EV pioneers. In 1999 Honda came out with the tiny, but cool looking, two-seater, Honda Insight with it’s 1.0 liter, 3 cylinder, 67HP gas engine, aided by a 10 kW (13HP) electric motor that managed an impressive 70+MPG. And Honda has kept their hand into EVs over the years with a Honda Civic Hybrid, and Accord hybrid, and even now they sell a new Insight hybrid model.

But even after Nissan came out with their Leaf, Honda was slow with a BEV response. Offering a compliance EV Fit that was limited and difficult to lease.

In 2006 Honda showed their FCX fuel cell concept, and in 2008 their built the Clarity FCEV, but it was really just a corporate test vehicle experiment as it was only available as a lease in Southern California, and in the end (from 2008-2015) only 48 FCXs were leased.

But the newly designed 2017 Honda Clarity FCEV made a much bigger splash. The Clarity is available in 12 approved Honda dealerships located in select California markets, 6 in Southern California, 5 in the San Francisco Bay Area (my area), and one in Sacramento. Honda also released a competitive plug-in hybrid version of the Clarity. But for the (lease-only) BEV Clarity model, it only came with a 25.5 KWh battery, and has a relatively small 89 miles (143 km) of range. So it was at best another compliance EV, and was not even close to the 200+ miles of EV range shown by serious BEV rivals from Chevy Bolt, Hyundai, and Tesla’s Model 3 (250-322mi.).

Honda CEO Takahiro Hachigo recently said “I believe hybrid vehicles will play a critical role. The objective is not electrification, per se, but improving fuel efficiency. And we believe hybrid vehicles are the way to abide by different environmental regulations.”

Clearly Hachigo’s plan is for Honda to just build EVs as hybrids and compliance vehicles only.

When asked about BEVs specifically, Hachigo said “Are there really customers who truly want them? I'm not so sure because there are lots of issues regarding infrastructure and hardware. I do not believe there will be a dramatic increase in demand for battery vehicles, and I believe this situation is true globally.”

When Honda released the new Clarity in 2017 Hachigo said “The FCV still shows a very high potential for the future. We have established mass-production technology for fuel cells and (opened) a factory. The FCV has advantages that the battery won’t be able to match for a long time. It has potential as an alternative power supply. Fuel cells can handle very big vehicles that battery EVs can’t for the foreseeable future. Those are some of the reasons we remain committed.”

Then there is Hyundai

Hyundai introduced their first fuel cell vehicle in 2001, and showed many different FCEV iterations over the years, but most were experimental “test” models. In 2012 they put their Tucson ix35 FCEV into limited production, and for the U.S. the first one was delivered in June 2014 in Tustin (California) with a lease price of $499/mo, a $2,999 down payment with unlimited free fueling for a three year period. In the end, 113 were leased in the U.S.
Then in Jan 2018 they released the Hyundai Nexo FCEV SUV. The Nexo was all new, and offered a class leading 380 miles of range. Plus for the first time you could actually buy one for $58K-$62K, but they were only available in parts of California with nearby hydrogen stations.

Despite Hyundai’s push for FCEVs, they had a strong offering of BEVs as well, with the Hyundai Kona and Kia Niro BEV crossovers with 258 and 239 EV miles of range respectively, and they announced the new 2020 Kia Soul EV, which went from 111 miles to 243 EV miles range (and also doubled the HP compared to the earlier Soul EV model).

But Hyundai/Kia availability was limited

Almost immediately after Hyundai announced their new BEV crossovers, dealers said that availability would be sparse initially. They soon stated that a shortage of EV batteries meant that supplies of the new EVs would be limited to the few (12) ZEV states like California. And later announcements said that most of Hyundai and Kia’s EVs would be allocated to Europe, where there was higher demand than there was in the U.S. The 2020 Soul EV was officially delayed for a 2021 release. Hyundai’s best EV sales so far came this November with 448 Kia Niro EVs sold, and 38 Hyundai Nexos sold. This is compared to over 10,000 Tesla Model 3s sold in November (est.). So it is easy to say that Hyundai/Kia BEV sales are relatively limited overall.

Is there really no BEV demand in the U.S. like they say?

The 10,000+ Tesla sales estimate above puts the Model 3 at 9th best for November sales compared to ALL cars in the U.S.

So I am wondering if the automakers are just ignoring Tesla’s sales numbers, or if they feel that they cannot compete in building and selling comparable BEVs with similar performance, EV range, and features in production volumes. So they are trying to convince buyers, dealers, and stockholders that there is just no real market for BEVs, despite sales numbers to the contrary.

Or do you think that these automakers are trying to play down the importance of BEVs over the next couple years, because they already invested so much in fuel cell technologies, and not enough into BEV technologies? Or are they just being conservative, and easing into BEVs slowly, by adding hybrid models, then PHEVs, then later BEVs as the demand rises over time. Or do these major automakers even really care about BEVs at all, because they sell so many gas powered cars today, which dwarf the sales of most all EVs.

About the author: Dean McManis and an electric vehicle advocate and frequently reports EV stories at Torque News. Dean can be reached on LinkedIn.

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KellyK (not verified)    December 29, 2019 - 11:00AM

Haven't heard about China's "Made in China 2025" fuel cell plan, eh? LOL North American Media is completely out to lunch on hydrogen. Next time do some research and remember that the CEO of Tesla is a liar.

DeanMcManis (not verified)    December 30, 2019 - 1:26AM

As a matter of fact I was aware of China's plans, but more importantly I am aware that they have changed their plans, and various FC targets, since the MIC 2025 inception. The problems are that China still produces the majority of their hydrogen from coal, which is far from carbon neutral, and their next progression for hydrogen production is based on steam-methane reforming, which is still dependent on fossil fuels. At the end of 2018 China had fewer FC vehicles than California did, and most of them were buses. So now China is cutting subsidies for all New Energy vehicles, which includes BEVs, PHEVs, and FCEVs. The ministry was quoted as saying: "Some carmakers have become over-reliant on subsidies and thus find it difficult to compete in the global markets," and “Despite the financial support, China's fuel-cell industry has not made breakthroughs and has not seen rapid development.” So the earlier planned phase out of BEVs and PHEVs, and replacement with FCEVs is not happening in 2020 (or for the foreseeable future) until hydrogen production technology changes, and greater international adoption improves. Meanwhile, BEV and PHEV (New Energy) vehicles are just starting to gain serious traction with worldwide support.

roger (not verified)    January 14, 2020 - 5:55AM

Go ask BP and Shell, when enough money finds its way into the rick pockets, suddenly the narrative becomes 'customers don't want BEVs'

Frank Roger (not verified)    January 27, 2020 - 2:52PM

Comparing 38 stations to 15000 chargers is like comparing 38 elephants to 15,000 ants. Mostly, you should compare Fast chargers to hydrogen stations to get anywhere close, and also mentioned a hydrogen station can fuel dozens to hundreds of cars a day, compared to a few vehicles per fast chargers.

Furthermore, the lack of infrastructure investment is egregious, California hasn't invested in new hydrogen stations in 2 years, so how are sales supposed to increase? Since then, over $2B have been thrown into charging, by dieselgate money, ratepayer money, and taxpayer money.

Finally, try living in a multifamily building or a place that doesn't have a driveway and having a BEV as your main mode of transportation. It's a massive headache that not a lot of people will tolerate. Yes, sales of BEVs are good, but they are a certain segment of all drivers. Many people won't have the option to go BEV, and without hydrogen, they have no way to go ZEV at all.