Hydrogen fuel-cell cars are 'the next phase' after battery-electric vehicles: Honda
Despite the failure of the Clarity model, the Japanese auto giant is still pushing for fuel-cell automobiles
Honda still sees a future for fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) despite discontinuing its only hydrogen-powered model in 2021 due to low demand and a lack of refuelling infrastructure.
“What I have in my mind is that the [battery] EV era comes first, and the next phase is fuel-cell cars,” said Katsushi Inoue, CEO of Honda India as of the beginning of this year and former Europe chief, in his capacity leading the company’s electrification efforts.
“The fuel cell era might take some more time,” he told Autocar, noting that such vehicles would be more likely to take off by 2040 — when Honda targets 100% of car sales to be battery-electric or FCEVs — than 2030.
This is despite a disappointing start for Honda’s foray into hydrogen-powered cars, the Clarity Fuel Cell, which only saw about 1,900 units sold worldwide, leading to its discontinuation in 2021.
“In those days, the infrastructure was not good enough, and it was an experimental model and the cost was too high,” Inoue said.
The Japanese auto giant has partnered with General Motors to bring a new FCEV — a fuel-cell version of its CR-V hybrid SUV — to market this year. In early 2023, Honda announced that the car’s fuel-cell system would be a third of the cost of that used in the last Clarity Fuel Cell model.
“Our next generation fuel cell is competitive enough,” Inoue said, although he did not refer to the far higher running costs of FCEVs compared to battery-electric vehicles.
Honda has projected sales of the FCEV would reach 2,000 units a year by 2025, before reaching 60,000 by 2030 and “a few hundred thousand” in the latter half of that decade.
However, despite this continued push towards passenger FCEVs, Inoue admitted that a better bet for hydrogen-fuelled transport in the short term would be commercial vehicles.
“Think about it: the fuel cell business comes from commercial vehicles first, then it’s coming to passenger vehicles,” he said. “The commercial vehicle business is going to start earlier — we’ve already started in China and some other countries — but it comes to passenger vehicles later, not now.”
Honda CEO Toshihiro Mibe added that the company would focus on hydrogen “for larger vehicles or non-mobility” which currently use diesel as “that can be replaced by fuel cells”.
Honda began trialling its new fuel-cell system in commercial trucks in China’s Hubei province in January 2023, and in December started a public demonstration of a heavy-duty fuel-cell truck co-developed with Isuzu.