Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles go from science-fiction potential to reality next spring as Hyundai offers a $499-a-month lease on a hydrogen-powered Tucson. Fuel cell-powered Honda and Toyota entries will follow.
Suddenly, consumers will have another alternative-propulsion choice. And that is the rub for any alternative to gasoline. Automakers can design vehicles to run on virtually any type of energy. The hard part is getting them refueled.
Must future refueling stations provide gasoline, diesel, compressed natural gas, propane, liquefied petroleum gas, hydrogen and E85 fuels and also EV rechargers? The danger is that all the alternative-energy technologies will crowd one another out. Some may not attract enough early buyers to lure investors into creating a nationwide refueling infrastructure.
Without convenient refueling, who buys that technology? It's the industry's chicken-or-egg problem. Ultimately, alt-fuel winners and losers will be determined largely by refueling infrastructure. Either the government or private investors will pay for that.
Automakers frequently ask that lawmakers not pick technology winners and losers but specify what the government wants to achieve. Here's a test of that resolve. If the industry doesn't want the government to select technology winners, it must fund multiple alt-fuel development programs until consumers choose.