At the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Honda unveiled the new hydrogen-powered FCV concept vehicle, which represents another direction for automobiles running on alternative energy sources.
Most of the focus on alternative energy powertrains has been on electric vehicles, especially with the success of Tesla Motors and its electric cars such as the Model S. However, electric engines are still far from challenging the internal combustion engine in the market.
There are several choices presented in the 2015 North American International Auto Show for alternative energy engines for vehicles, including full or hybrid electric engines, compressed natural gas engines and hydrogen fuel cell engines.
Honda, which is looking to start selling the FCV in Japan by March of next year, showcased a vehicle that features sleek curves and a lot of leg room in the back seats. However, Honda executives admitted that a hydrogen-powered car will only be appealing to a specific kind of buyer.
"This is going to work for people who want a zero-emission car that you can fuel up in a few minutes for a 300-mile range and who live in the proximity of hydrogen fueling stations," said Honda manager of sales for fuel cell vehicles Steve Ellis.
Across the United States, hydrogen fueling stations are currently scarce. The region that is the only exception is Southern California, where there are about a dozen hydrogen fueling stations and almost 50 will be operational by next year. The construction of these stations is included in the initiatives of the state to develop infrastructure for alternative energy sources.
According to Ellis, there would be enough of these stations in Southern California by the end of 2015 to justify the production and sale of the FCV in the region.
However, companies can only speculate whether hydrogen-powered vehicles such as the Honda FCV and the recently released Toyota Mirai will be adopted by consumers. Even though a consumer is interested on buying a hydrogen-powered car, the limited availability of hydrogen fueling stations will be a hindrance, especially compared to electric vehicles that can be charged up at home.
The technology for hydrogen-powered vehicles is also expensive. While Honda has not yet revealed a price for the upcoming FCV, the Toyota Mirai is now selling for almost $60,000.
Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk has previously criticized the usage of hydrogen fuel cells as an energy source for vehicles, stating the industry should retain its focus on the development of electric vehicles.
"It's just very difficult to make hydrogen and store it, and use it in a car," said Musk. "If you're going to pick an energy storage mechanism, hydrogen is a dumb one to pick."