Over the past several months, major automobile manufacturers – Toyota, Hyundai, Daimler, and Honda – have committed to offer hydrogen fuel cell vehicles for commercial sale as early as 2015.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fuel Cell Technologies Program Demonstration fuel cell vehicles have been produced with “a driving range of more than 250 miles between refueling,” which is a greater range than the all-electric mode of most commercially available electric vehicles. Additionally, hydrogen vehicles produce few to no emissions.

However, concerns about hydrogen fuel vehicles do exist. The cost of Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cells, for instance, is significant; they are priced at about $36,000. Analysts currently estimate that the cost to produce the entire vehicle is around $100,000. Furthermore, hydrogen refueling stations across the U.S. are limited. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center, only nine hydrogen fueling stations exist in the United States, all in California.

Despite these challenges, vehicle manufacturers are committed to bringing fuel-cell vehicles to the market.

Hyundai has committed to offer a fuel-cell version of the Tucson (also known as the ix35 sport utility vehicle) on lease by the end of this year. The automobile company plans to produce up to 1,000 fuel cell cars by the year 2015, and 10,000 fuel cell vehicles per year thereafter.

The 2013 Tucson GLS. Hyundai has committed to offer a hydrogen fuel cell version of this car for lease by the end of this year. Credit: Hyundai.

Customers in Southern California can currently lease Honda’s Hydrogen Fuel Cell FCX Clarity. Honda has the Clarity scheduled for mass production and commercially available in 2018. Credit: Honda.

Over the next three to five years, Hyundai’s target price for the fuel cell vehicle will be set at $50,000. To compare, the gasoline-powered Tucson starts at about $20,000.

Hyundai’s plan is to develop fuel cells for heavier and mid-size cars, while reserving electric-batteries for smaller ones.

Toyota has claimed that their company will offer hydrogen fuel cell vehicles commercially by 2015.

“Specifically, we’re developing a lineup that includes a hydrogen fuel cell sedan in 2015,” said Jim Lentz, president and CEO of Toyota Motor Sales USA, in a speech at the 2012 Center for Automotive Research Management Seminars this August.

Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche told the German weekly newsmagazine Der Spiegel in March that sales of fuel cell vehicles would need to reach 100,000 units to become commercially viable. Zetsche also affirmed 2015 as the target date.

Honda’s Thomas Brachmann from the Department of Automobile Engineering and Research remarked that, “Honda believes fuel cell electric vehicles are the ultimate mobility solution, providing a practical, clean and near-silent answer to transport requirements.”

Honda’s fuel cell electric (FCX) Clarity is currently available in California in very limited release and it can only be leased over a three-year period. On its current schedule, Honda will be putting the FCX Clarity in mass production by 2018.

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