TOKYO — Clean cars that run on the universe's most abundant element and emit nothing but water vapor seem like an ideal solution for tackling the world's energy pinch and climate crisis.
That is why several automakers are racing to develop hydrogen fuel cell technology as a long-term, sustainable path to electrifying transportation. But the key words here are "long term."
Even the most bullish advocates, such as Toyota Motor Corp. and Hyundai Motor Group, concede the technology is still in its infancy and beset with numerous hurdles to mass commercialization. There are the monumental costs of the fuel cell systems, the complexity of building a fueling infrastructure and the question of delivering an affordable hydrogen supply.
Some companies are already dialing back their ambitions as the industry prioritizes the more immediate potential of full-electric vehicles that get their power solely from a battery. Daimler's Mercedes-Benz said in April that it would end development of fuel cell systems for passenger vehicles and turn its fuel cell focus to heavy-duty trucks in a joint venture with Volvo Group. General Motors and Honda are still working together on a next-generation fuel cell system.
Ford Motor Co. announced in 2018 it would wind down its cooperation with Daimler on fuel cells, and BMW has said fuel cells lag EV development by 10 years, even as it readies its own entry. The i Hydrogen Next, based on the X5 midsize crossover, is scheduled for limited-volume production in 2022.