WOLFSBURG, Germany -- Hydrogen fuel cells have failed to live up to promises and are unlikely to become a cost-effective way to power cars in the near future, Volkswagen AG CEO Martin Winterkorn said today.
The company, with the debut of the XL1 diesel plug-in hybrid at the Geneva auto show this month, launched a strategy to sell plug-in hybrids in every vehicle segment among its various brands. The cars, which will compete against such vehicles as the Chevrolet Volt, Ford C-Max Energi and Toyota Prius Plug-in, are needed to meet strict new fuel economy and greenhouse gas rules set by the European Union and the state of California.
Volkswagen says it will continue to study hydrogen-fueled vehicles, but Winterkorn's comments indicate Europe's largest automaker is unlikely to join companies such as Hyundai Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. in pledging to start selling those vehicles to the public around 2015.
"I do not see the infrastructure for fuel cell vehicles, and I do not see how hydrogen can be produced on large scale at reasonable cost," Winterkorn said through a translator when asked a question during a press conference here at VW headquarters. "I do not currently see a situation where we can offer fuel cell vehicles at a reasonable cost that consumers would also be willing to pay."
Winterkorn added that competing automakers have boasted about their technology in such a way that one might have expected their entire fleet of vehicles to be operating with fuel cells in 2012.
The comment was seen as a jab at one of Volkswagen's chief rivals, Daimler AG, which in 1994 introduced the first fuel cell vehicle, dubbed NECAR for "new electric car." Daimler, which makes Mercedes-Benz luxury cars, has continued to pursue fuel cells more aggressively than most and recently reached a deal with Ford Motor Co. and Nissan-Renault with a goal of selling first fuel cell vehicles beginning in 2017.
"This technology has the biggest potential for emission-free driving" compared with other powertrains, Thomas Weber, Daimler's r&d chief, said in January during a press conference announcing the three-way partnership.
VW's Winterkorn said today that he expects plug-in hybrids and natural gas engines to prevail for the next decade over other potential alternatives to gasoline and diesel.
These, he said, are "reasonable options."