Sure, Elon Musk is giving away Tesla patents, but don’t be surprised if more established manufacturers politely decline his offer. Instead of batteries and electric charging stations, players like General Motors, Mercedes, Honda and Toyota are focusing their efforts on a very different sort of fuel system: hydrogen. Toyota has just revealed that its first commercial hydrogen fuel cell car, a sedan modelled on the earlier FCV concept, will be ready for launch in the US and Europe in the summer of next year, priced at seven million yen (around $69,000, although exact international pricing has yet to be determined). By that time, the hydrogen car and its refueling network may lag significantly behind Tesla’s all-electric offerings, which currently start at less than $60,000 for the base model Tesla S with lifetime fuel costs included, but Toyota and other hydrogen pioneers believe that they’ll eventually gain the upper hand, thanks to their technology’s promise of greater range and quicker refueling.
Whereas most Tesla Superchargers take more than an hour to deliver enough charge for a range of 300 miles, hydrogen fuel stations could pump hydrogen gas into a car’s tank in as little as five minutes. This gas is then gradually mixed with oxygen inside the car, producing an electro-chemical reaction that offers comparable cruising range to a tank of gas — around 430 miles, Toyota claims — with no waste products other than water vapor. If there’s a downside to hydrogen, it’s the complexity and cost of gathering, storing and delivering hydrogen at high pressure. Toyota says that it’ll only sell its new car in areas that have some level of hydrogen refueling infrastructure already. However, with Tesla’s Superchargers being so cheap to build and maintain (especially ones that are solar powered), Toyota may find that launching a commercial hydrogen fuel cell car turns out to be the easy part, compared to the daunting task of ensuring that its customers are always near a fuel station.