The word on the street a decade or two ago was that fuel-cell electric vehicles were the future; fast forward to today, and Toyota, which bet big on hydrogen-powered cars, is looking increasingly isolated as rival automakers double down on battery electric vehicles.
There has been much talk about the death of the internal combustion engine (ICE) ever since Tesla Motors made the electric car cool, talk that in many ways echoes the rhetoric that prevailed when the first commercially-available hybrid vehicles hit the scene, talk that has been fueled by the reluctant but gradual shift of the automotive industry towards pure electrification. However, whereas hybrids still rely on the ICE for motivation, the extent of today’s electrification renders the age-old technology irrelevant. If electric cars do end up ruling our roads, death of the ICE is surely inevitable.
The first fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) arrive just when the fledgling battery electric car segment is gaining traction, presenting the world’s automakers with two potentially viable “zero-emissions” vehicle options. Hybrid tech bridged the gab between the gas engine and the two methods of pure electrification, and now it’s time for the industry to decide on which one to bet its billions on.
Going Against The Tide
It’s Deja vu all over again. During a time when most automakers counted on gas-powered cars to remain the one-and-only means of transportation, Honda and Toyota saw it fit to shake things up, each releasing a hybrid car that critics often mocked as vapourware. Honda’s hybrid, the Insight, proved them correct, but the Toyota Prius would go on to single-handily start a revolution, dominating the newly-established segment and fending off all new competitors without issue.
Today, “Prius” is synonymous with hybrids, and that is likely what Toyota is hoping to achieve with the Mirai fuel cell vehicle, which may be part of a broader company initiative to develop a fuel cell ecosystem in an industry increasingly entrenching itself in the battery electric camp. Honda is gunning for the same with its Clarity FCEV, as is Korea’s Hyundai with a number of products. However, most other automakers have ruled out the technology while a few like General Motors and Ford are dabbling.
Similar Results, Different Processes
Battery electric vehicles (BEV) are powered by one or more electric motors that source their energy from electricity stored in a battery pack, which are recharged using grid electricity either from a wall socket or a dedicated charging unit. Since they don’t run on gasoline or diesel and are powered by electricity, the popular belief is that they emit zero pollutants.
Owners must consider the hefty cost of potentially replacing the batteries of such vehicles, be it as a result of battery degradation or damage. Costs could be as much as US$6,000 for a mid-rage BEV like the Nissan Leaf and over US$15,000 for a long-range BEV like the Chevrolet Bolt.
Fuel cell vehicles, on the other hand, use hydrogen gas to power their electric motor(s), combining hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity and emitting nothing more than water and heat. Since they are powered entirely by electricity, fuel cell vehicles are considered electric vehicles; however, unlike battery-powered EVs, their range and refueling processes are similar to conventional cars.
BEVs and especially FCEVs command a hefty price premium over gasoline- and diesel-diesel-powered car because of their very low penetration and the rarity and higher cost of their constituent materials, such as cobalt and platinum. The Toyota Mirai, for instance, has a starting price of approximately $58,000 in America before government incentives, while the most affordable long-range BEVs sticker at around US$35,000.
Electric cars offer a limited driving range, so there is also the issue of range anxiety. Not everyone can recharge at home and charging stations remain sparse, issues that are notably more pronounced when talking FCEVs.
Fortunately, the overall costs of both types of EVs are expected to decline as their market penetration increases.
Not So Green
While both BEVs and FCEVs produce little to no tailpipe pollution, the process that goes into getting one ready for consumption and up and going unfortunately does. With the former, if t local grid generates electricity from coal-fired power plants, then your car could potentially have large a carbon footprint. If, however, the grid incorporates a fair amount of renewable solar and wind energy, expect a clean electric vehicle.
We must also factor in other forms of environmental impact, such as the hidden emissions created by extracting (digging, mining, baking etc.) the precious rare metals used by batteries. In fact, a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that it takes nearly twice as much energy to create a battery electric vehicle as it does a gas-powered one on a per-kilometre basis, resulting in more harmful pollutants. However, the same study found that, even after taking into account emissions from battery manufacturing, the average BEV generates half the emissions of a conventional car over the course of its life.
Disposing of half a tonne of batteries once they are no longer usable also poses a problem. They are not dumped in landfills as you might have thought. Most are recycled in an attempt to salvage and reuse their precious metals and other components. This results in added energy, time and money.
Similarly, producing, packaging and transferring the hydrogen used by fuel cells requires a large amount of energy that can result in greenhouse gas emissions and various other pollutants. According to U.S. Department of Energy, about 95% of industrial hydrogen is produced from natural gas, a fossil fuel—as with batteries, the goal is to shift that reliance to renewable energy sources like solar, wind and water.
Only One: Batteries Or Fuel Cells
Developing a car—any car—is very expensive, making it impractical to develop and sell on a comparable scale cutting-edge technologies like BEV and FCEVs at the same time. “One at a time” has been the mindset of most automakers—with Toyota, Honda and Hyundai (the biggest proponent of FCEV) all doubling back to battery electric powertrains in recent years, it is fairly clear where the overall industry is heading.
“The worst thing you can do is kind of half bake electric, then go off on another science project with fuel cells, then go running to another science project,” Scott Keogh, president of Audi of America, told Automotive News when inquired about the Volkswagen Group’s full commitment to BEVs.
The biggest argument against fuel cells is that they are not as energy-efficient as lithium-ion and other modern battery technologies, with some studies estimating a factor of 3-to-1 in favor of batteries. A well-to-wheel analysis looking at the environmental impact of a BEVs and FCEVs throughout their lifespan, one carried out by an international team of scientists headed by Swiss research institute Empa, found that FCEVs are ecologically sound only if they are able to run on hydrogen from renewable energy sources and, in their current state, don’t fare well in the eco-comparison with electric cars.
“First of all, electricity is needed to generate hydrogen, which the car tanks up on. Electricity is then produced from hydrogen again in the car. This double conversion significantly reduces the efficiency level,” the researchers noted. “People who use the same electricity to charge the battery in their electric cars directly travel more economically and thus in a more environmentally friendly way.”
When comparing the efficiency of modern BEVs and FCEV from the point of fueling (tank-to-wheels efficiency), the former does indeed come out on top. The Environmental Protection Agency’s miles-per-gallon-equivalent (MPGe) estimates—that is, the energy obtained by combustion of one US gallon of gasoline—reveals that the Toyota Mirai’s fuel efficiency of 67 MPGe pales in comparison to the Tesla Model S BEVs’ rating of up to 100 MPGe.
In an earlier study, fuel cell expert Ulf Bossel described a hydrogen economy as a wasteful economy, arguing that the large amount of energy required to get the hydrogen ready for use, in addition to the energy lost when it is converted to useful electricity, leaves around 25% (compared to 77% for batteries) for practical use, which is unacceptable to run an economy sustainably.
Bossel also pointed out the possible geopolitical ramifications of a hydrogen economy, an important piece of the equation that doesn’t get enough attention. “The advantages of hydrogen praised by journalists (non-toxic, burns to water, abundance of hydrogen in the Universe, etc.) are misleading, because the production of hydrogen depends on the availability of energy and water, both of which are increasingly rare and may become political issues, as much as oil and natural gas are today,” he said in an interview with PhyOrg.
Another study published in the journal Energy by scientists at Stanford University and the Technical University of Munich (TUM), this time comparing BEVs and FCEVs in a hypothetical future where the cost of electric vehicles is more affordable, arrived at the same general conclusion as Bossel and Empa’s researchers.
“We looked at how large-scale adoption of electric vehicles would affect total energy use in a community, for buildings as well as transportation,” said lead author Markus Felgenhauer, a doctoral candidate at TUM and former visiting scholar at the Stanford Global Climate and Energy Project (GCEP). “We found that investing in all-electric battery vehicles is a more economical choice for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, primarily due to their lower cost and significantly higher energy efficiency.”
Not Now; Maybe Later
Whether or not hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles are the future and a better value proposition than battery electric vehicles will be a topic of contention for years to come, but for the time being at least, it appears that the most important players in the emerging post-fossil fuel era have voted with their money. The world’s automakers, including ardent supporters of fuel cell technology like Toyota and Honda, are betting on batteries, having investing billions to electrify their entire lineups over the next 20 years.
FCEVs make up a mere fraction of electric sales, and the only real advantage that they currently have over their battery-powered counterparts is refueling speed. However, that’s not to say there is no future for fuel cells or that Toyota, Honda or other interested parties intend on giving up on the technology. There has already been significant investment in the area, a foundation has been set and innovations have been made. Add to that the strong subsidies and marketplace incentives provided by governments in Japan, Korea, and parts of North America (i.e. California), and fuel-cells could still have fighting chance, with a potential to start a second wave of the EV revolution once renewable energy sources become readily available.
“We don’t really see an adversary ‘zero-sum’ relationship between the EV (electric vehicle) and the hydrogen car,” Toyota chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada told ReutersGF during the lead up to the 2017 Tokyo Auto Show. “We’re not about to give up on hydrogen electric fuel-cell technology at all.”
Unlikely as it might seem, a steadfast Toyota just might repeat history, positioned at the epicentre of a fuel-cell revolution that most dismissed—a repeat of the Prius era in many ways.
8 Of The Best ‘Old’ And New Car Features Of 2019
The future in auto tech is already here, and it’s very exciting.
As cars become safer, more fuel-efficient, and more comfortable, it’s harder and harder for the average motorist to imagine how they can be even better. However, for car manufacturers, there seems to be endless possibilities everywhere.
Be it improvements in autonomous tech, electric drivetrains and heads up displays, or upping a car’s luxury, the automotive industry is bringing us many exciting things. Here are eight of the best ‘old’ and new car features of 2019.
1. Blind Spot Sensors
Many of the features in cars focus on driving safety. Blind spot sensors detect when cars are out of the typical range of mirrors and alert you of their presence. This doesn’t remove the importance of taking a quick glance over your shoulder before changing lanes, but it will definitely help reduce the number of accidents caused by blind spots.
2. Phone Starter
Imagine a blistering cold morning, One where the ground is covered by snow and you’re frantically scraping your windshield clean of ice while you bitterly await the car’s heater to put out its end of the bargain. Well, situations like this are a problem of the past as of 2019.
New vehicles can connect to your wireless device and power on remotely, allowing to take on the cold winter months with confidence knowing you will have a heated car waiting for you. In addition to the climate control system, your car’s door locks, alarm, interior and exterior lighting, and liftgate or trunk can also be operated remotely.
3. Heads Up Display
Touch screen menus now have a second cousin. Heads up displays (HUD, for short) are the hip new feature in today’s cars. They are usually in the form of a small display on the front windshield above the steering wheel and below your eyes’ normal field of vision that shows speed, gas levels, and even directions to minimize any reason for you to take your hands of the steering wheel and/or look away from the road.
4. Automatic Parallel Parking
For those of you who have visited small beach towns in Florida or driven through the crowded, narrow streets of San Francisco, you know that parallel parking is a must-have skill. But parallel parking is difficult, and car manufacturers seem to agree, explaining why many 2019 vehicles now come equipped with automatic parking assist systems.
If you’ve been thinking of moving to that bustling Florida town, you can take comfort in knowing there will be a car to handle the tight street parking for you anytime and anywhere, be that car be from a Mercedes Benz dealer near Coral Springs or a Honda dealer in Seattle.
5. 360 Cameras
You know those rear-end cameras that help with reversing? Those are so 2018. Now you can expect full 360-degree cameras to cover all four sides of your car. This comes in handy in many situations and can prevent unforeseen scratches or bumper damage.
6. Individual Climate Zones
Thanks to advancements in auto tech, the driver and the passengers can now create their own microclimates inside a of car. By giving each person the power to set his or her own temperature, there will be less bickering over the AC dial.
Many new cars offer dual-zone climate controls for the driver and front passenger, and some can even be equipped with “tri-zone” or “quad-zone” climate control so that rear passengers aren’t left in the cold, so to speak.
7. Pre-Safe Pulse
For those who want to take safety to the next level, the Pre-safe Pulse is a new crash safety measure for side impacts. When the car senses an imminent crash about to take place, the driver and passenger seats automatically move closer to the center of the vehicle. For side accidents, even a minimal five-centimeter difference can reduce the impact felt to passengers by one-third.
8. Mirrors with Auto-dim
If you drive a lot at night, you’ve probably noticed that headlights have gotten much more powerful over the years. In some ways, this is tremendously beneficial. Being able to see further and with more clarity is important. However, being on the receiving end of these lights is not only annoying, but it can be dangerous.
Drivers are less inclined to check their mirrors if they get blinded every time they try. For this reason, newer vehicles have equipped mirrors with auto-dimming. These reduce the glare caused by headlights behind you and keep your focus on the road.
Cars Are Getting Smarter
The results of these new features are that cars are getting smarter and drivers now have the tools they need to make better decisions. This combination of factors will surely decrease the number of car accidents and make driving a safer, more efficient and reliable method of transportation.
Fiat Chrysler Unconnect Now Lets You Order Pizza Using Your Car
Uconnect has consistently been one of the best infotainment system on the market, and Uconnect Market will make it even better.
Not to be outdone by General Motors, which has been a dominant force when it comes to offering in-car commerce, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has has given its Unconnect infotainment system a new Market platform that treats Jeep, RAM, Chrysler, and Dodge owners to most of the same convenience features enjoyed by owners of GM vehicles.
Unconnect Market allows a variety of third-party companies to offer connected buying services directly through the infotainment system. With it, you will be able to order and pay for food, reserve a table at a restaurant, fill your tank at pump-and-pay gas locations, locate and pay for nearby parking, and even schedule service appointments.
Adding a credit card when setting up a Uconnect Market account gives you authorized card-free fuel fill-ups at participating Shell stations.
The Unconnect Market platform rolls out via an over-the-air (OTA) update in the second half of 2019 for current 2019 model year or newer Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram vehicles equipped with Fiat Chrysler’s 8.4-inch touchscreen.
You Can Order Domino’s Pizza Using Your Chevrolet
Don’t have 60 seconds to phone in a pizza order? This is for you.
General Motors has updated the infotainment systems on Chevrolet vehicles with a new Domino’s pizza ordering tool.
As part of the American automaker’s growing in-car Marketplace ecosystem, the app lets drivers place orders for carryout or home delivery using the in-vehicle touchscreen interface and Chevrolet Marketplace portal.
It would be too distracting and downright unsafe if the system let you configure an entire pizza from scratch, so you are limited to just saved and recent orders.
General Motors has been steadily growing Marketplace since its launch in 2017. In April 2018, Chevrolet partnered with Shell to allow in-car gas purchases, sparing you the trouble of using the gas pump’s magnetic reader and being the victim of credit card skimming. In November of the same year, Buick added Yelp compatibility to its infotainment system, allowing you to make restaurant reservations on the go.
The new Domino’s app works with any 2017 model year or newer Chevrolet vehicle that runs Marketplace.